Patagonia’s Worn Wear mobile tour just wrapped up its 5,641-mile, 21-state, 18-repair-stops-and-one-flat-tire tour in Boston. The six-week cross-USA journey repaired old Patagonia gear free of charge, sold used clothing and held DIY workshops—all while reinforcing the brand’s values and community along the way.
The Worn Wear concept started as a blog by Lauren Melloy, wife of Patagonia-sponsored surfer Keith Melloy, calling for stories and pictures of life in Patagonia gear. When the submissions started pouring in, Patagonia knew it had an opportunity to further connect with its tribe and reinforce their deep roots in environmental responsibly.
So a team of repair techs and brand ambassadors hit the road, stopping in the eye-catching repair truck at surf shops, eco events, festivals and other gatherings. They spread the word on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter for the public to bring their worn, tired and weary clothing—and stories behind them—to meet up and mend their beloved garments, instead of discarding and replacing them.
The tour’s main message, “If it’s broke, fix it,” has been at the company’s foundation from the start with the iron-clad, lifelong guarantee backed by its 45-employee repair facility in Reno, Nevada, the largest in North America.
“There is nothing we can change about how we make clothing that would have more positive environmental impact than simply making less,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said. “Worn Wear… delivers a simple but critical message: Keep your gear in action longer and take some pressure off our planet.” Founder Yves Chouinard also appeared on The Today Show to reinforce that message.
The Worn Wear platform puts Patagonia’s commitment to product longevity on the ground, and spreads the word about responsible ownership and consumerism. Built by artist/surfer Jay Nelson out of upcycled redwood wine barrels, the repair wagon itself a statement of ingenuity and the beauty of old materials put to new use.
Fueled by biodiesel, the wagon houses an industrial sewing machine used to repair anything that needs to be fixed, Patagonia or not.
As the van made its penultimate stop at the Patagonia flagship in New York’s Soho neighborhood, we chatted with a crew member, Jay Palmer, about his experience on the tour. He described Worn Wear’s mission as starting the conversation of changing our relationship with stuff and the value of used garments.
“There is great value in passing garments down from one generation to the next, and the stories those garments hold when we make the commitment to keep them around,” he commented. “Most importantly, the fact that these garments become a vehicle of environmental conservation—the longer we use a garment, the longer we keep it out of the landfill, the less emissions and environmental impact the garment has.”
This is not the first time Patagonia has used nontraditional marketing tactics to raise awareness about the environmental footprint of retail consumerism. On Black Friday 2011, it ran a full-page ad in The New York Times as part of its Common Threads Initiative, asking people not to buy one of the brand’s top-selling jackets. Instead, it urged readers to take the Common Threads Pledge to Reduce Reuse, Repair, Recycle and Reimagine “a world where we take only what the planet can replace.”
Patagonia product responsibility analyst Nellie Cohen said of the Common Threads message, “One thing that wasn’t totally working was the complexity.” So the transition to the Worn Wear messaging couldn’t be simpler: “If it’s broke, fix it.” The Worn Wear Philosophers leading the tour taught workshops on how to repair things to empower people to take responsibility for their garments moving forward.
When asked about the tension between the “buy less” message and running a profitable retail business, Jay reinforced the transparency Patagonia is known for.
“We recognize that as a clothing company, we are not sustainable,” he said, “because sustainability, from my understanding, is something that regenerates into the earth. So these garments are not sustainable at all… and with that we recognize comes great responsibility, especially as we grow. What we’re going to do is pay attention to every single detail and make sure it is as responsible as possible, as we’ve done from the very beginning.”
Outside of the dedicated Reno repair facility, the Soho store is currently the only location that performs on-site repairs. However, the company may extend this to additional stores to continue the visibility of the Worn Wear campaign. Patagonia may also begin selling used Patagonia goods at select stores as its mobile team has done throughout the sprint tour.
Patagonia recognizes that it cannot change the current state of consumerism alone, so the company has begun supporting startups in the clothing, food, water, energy and waste industries that are working toward innovative solutions.
— Michael Carroll (@Carroll46) May 2, 2015
Two years ago, the company launched the “$20 Million and Change Fund” dedicated to investing in environmentally and socially responsible startups. Recently, the fund invested in Yerdle, an app that allows people to send their goods to a fellow Yerdler for points, which grants them access to use those points in Yerdle’s bartering marketplace.
As Yerdle and Worn Wear subtly acknowledge, the choice to buy more instead of repair drives production, while the choice to throw away instead of pass on fills landfills. “Most importantly,” Jay said, “the responsibility is in the hands of the consumer. The more the consumer demands that things are more responsibly produced, the more they will be.”
Hats off to Patagonia for acting on its values and starting a dialogue not only about what the brand is doing, but what consumers can do to create momentum toward a sustainable future.
—Eileen Vogl is a New York-based brand storyteller and writer who wears her grandfather’s clothes daily