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Patagonia: Pioneering a New Form of Environmental Corporate Leadership

By Partner


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Image: Patagonia

Where do the other outdoor wear brands stand and how can they catch up with Patagonia’s incomparable sustainability efforts?

Key Takeaways

• One of the most prominent outerwear categories across outdoor wear brands are puffer jackets

• Backpacks and gloves are two of the only categories for which The North Face’s prices are higher than Patagonia’s

• Comparing similar items, Patagonia maintains the highest prices, not only using recycled fabrics but placing an emphasis on sustainable production

When one thinks of environmental and ethical advocacy, Patagonia is the iconic brand on everyone’s mind: from the famous “Don’t buy this jacket campaign” to supporting the fight against oil drilling, to suing the president to protect Bears Ears National Monument.

One of the most successful outerwear brands in the world, known for its high-quality outdoor wear, Patagonia has spent the past 50 years balancing sustainability and profitability. Patagonia has always been considered the benchmark for eco-friendly apparel, taking the lead and showing other retailers what being an environmentally conscious brand truly means. Taking his sustainable commitment further, this September Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard gave all of Patagonia’s shares to a non- profit organization, which will reinvest the brand’s profits into fighting climate change. An unprecedented move that begs the question of whether other brands will follow suit? What lies behind the iconic brand’s sustainable collections? And finally, how does it compare to other outdoor wear leaders?

Outdoor Gear Powerhouses

When shopping for high quality and durable outdoor clothing, three of the main players in the market are Patagonia, The North Face and Columbia Sportswear, all catering for a multitude of outdoor sports and activities.

Image: Lectra

As shown by Retviews data, all three brands mainly focus on tops, outerwear and accessories. Within tops (the strongest category for all three brands), t-shirts stand out with the highest assortment share. This is especially the case for Patagonia, whose t-shirts make up 67% of its tops. As Retviews data indicate, both Columbia and Patagonia have a stronger presence of outerwear in their collections than The North Face. So how are each of their outerwear assortments split between categories?

Image: Lectra

As shown by Retviews data, casual jackets are the most prominent category in each brand’s outerwear assortment, followed by puffer jackets. Next to competitors, Patagonia’s outerwear assortment is the most varied and the most evenly spread out, offering a wide variety of each outerwear category. Not only that, but Patagonia has one of the largest assortments of fleece jackets, 21% higher than the market average. The fleece being a fabric and clothing item that the brand pioneered in the 1970s, made it its most iconic piece.

The iconic piece has also made its way as a fashion trend and has been sported by some of the fashion industry’s biggest influencers, such as Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber. The fleece has seen a peak in popularity these last few years, appearing in trend lists. As a proof of the fleece’s trendiness, Patagonia’s classic retro-X fleece jacket achieved the 7th spot in the Lyst’s Q1 2021 men’s hottest products ranking. This wasn’t the first time that a Patagonia’s item was considered one of the biggest fashion trends, as a matter of facts, within the financial and tech industries, the brand has earned a reputation for producing an unofficial uniform. Its fleece vest has become the staple item worn by people working at Wall Street and by people who want to show off its status symbols as it represents an entrepreneur working in the Wall street market.

The Data Behind Outerwear Pricing

Specializing in outdoor wear, Patagonia, Columbia Sportswear and The North Face all carry similar outerwear styles, created using advanced technology to fight off any weather conditions. So, what differentiates their assortments?

Image: Lectra

As shown by Retviews’ data on outerwear, Patagonia holds the highest price point. Its maximum price for outerwear is 37% higher than that of The North Face, which is in turn 8% higher than Columbia Sportswear’s highest price. Zooming in on the data, Patagonia and The North Face have a similar entry price for The North Face’s “Women’s TKA Glacier 1⁄4 Zip”, and Patagonia’s “Women’s Micro D 1⁄4 Zip Fleece”. Although both are made from recycled materials, Patagonia’s entry-level jacket is produced ethically in line with its Fair-Trade initiative.

Sustainability at The Core of Patagonia’s Business Model

Patagonia is one of the most environmentally conscious brands, not only for its use of recycled fabrics, but for all the programs it has implemented to lower its ecological impact. Ranging from Fair-Trade Certification and producing clothing with reduced emissions, to donating 1% of its sales to environmental causes and implementing a “repair and reuse service”. In previous years, Patagonia’s sustainability efforts were unmatched, and The North Face stood far behind. However, the latter has recently made a significant shift towards lowering its own ecological footprint.

The North Face notably increased its use of recycled fabrics, committing to source all materials for gear responsibly and to eliminate single-use plastics by 2025. Having a wide range of outerwear, both brands also have a large selection of items certified by the Responsible Down Standard. So, how do the two brands’ outerwear assortments compare in terms of sustainability?

Image: Lectra

Patagonia and The North Face both have a wide range of outerwear made from sustainable fabrics, however Patagonia has 7% more items made from recycled fabrics. Not only does Patagonia use recycled fabrics, but it also produces items in a more environmentally and ethically conscious way.

Both brands have very similar lines, namely the “Nano Puff” from Patagonia and the “ThermoBall Eco” from The North Face. As shown by Retviews’ data for the three different styles of each line, Patagonia’s prices consistently stand above those of The North Face.

Image: Gerber Technology

Patagonia’s Nano Puff prices are on average 19% higher than The North Face’s ThermoBall Eco prices, the highest price difference standing at 21% for hoodie styles of each line. Both brands’ lines are made from 100% recycled fabrics and fill, however Patagonia’s prices are a consequence of its effort to disrupt the fashion industry. As a matter of fact, the materials used are not only sustainable, but are also Fair Trade Certified and the polyester is P.U.R.E.TM certified, thus produced using reduced emissions.

Higher Price Points to Compensate Sustainability Efforts

Patagonia produces all its products with sustainability in mind, most of its collection being made from recycled materials, and part of sustainable initiatives. However, this comes at a cost, as its price positioning is on average higher than its competitors’.

Image: Lectra

As shown by Retviews’ data, Columbia finds itself at the other end of the spectrum, with the lowest average price point for every category. Columbia Sportswear is also the brand with the highest markdowns on its collection. Currently being less environmentally focused than competitors Patagonia and The North Face could be contributing to Columbia’s lower prices.

Delving deeper into Retviews’ data, Patagonia has the highest average price for all categories aside from backpacks and gloves. Within accessories, Patagonia’s bags are 54% more expensive than The North Face’s and 44% more expensive than the market average. This could be directly linked to the fact that Patagonia’s bag assortment is significantly larger than its competitors. Hats are the most prominent accessory across all three brands’ accessories, which is evident within Patagonia’s assortment as hats make up 40% of its accessories. Representing such a significant portion of the accessories’ assortment, Patagonia’s hats are also 11% more expensive than The North Face’s hats.

Retviews: Your Best Ally in Benchmarking

Retviews, the AI powered benchmarking tool, by Lectra tracks more than 5.000 brands across the world, allowing your brand to pinpoint the right assortment and pricing strategy, to stay ahead of the curve. Detect new trends, avoid unnecessary markdowns and improve your performance with Retviews.

Do you want to gain more data backed insight on Patagonia’s strategy? Get an in-depth look at the data behind Patagonia’s sustainability strategy and how the brand has become a sustainable fashion leader in Retviews’ report.