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Patagonia, From the Ground Up While the rest of retail was tanking, Yvon Chouinard's outdoor clothing and gear company was having its best two years ever. Here's why.

By Jennifer Wang

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Yvon Chouinard has no problem being first.

At 26, he made the first ascent of Yosemite Valley's Muir Wall, a 2,900-foot rock face in California that took eight days to conquer with unsecured ropes and some hand-forged pitons. Three years later, on a journey by van and boat from California to the tip of South America, he rode breaks in Baja and the Pacific that had never been surfed before. When he took up kayaking, he claimed the first descent of Clarks Fork River in Yellowstone National Park, winding for miles through the 1,000-foot walls of Wyoming's Box Canyon.

Chouinard takes the same approach with Patagonia , the outdoor gear and clothing business he founded in 1974. The company turned direct-mail catalogs into good reading in the '70s, and last year, began releasing interactive and beautifully photographed online catalogs for its fishing and surf lines. Decades before businesses embraced the green movement, Patagonia spearheaded campaigns to use eco-friendly materials and fabrics in its clothing and pioneered sustainable manufacturing practices, turning the outerwear industry on its head.

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