Patagonia’s recent adventure in new products – and what you can learn from it

by Jan 18, 2018

It’s a new year – does that mean the beginning of a new product, market or audience for your organization?

Last year ushered in all of the above for Patagonia with the launch of their sustainable, heavy-duty work clothing. The Work Wear line is “built for the hardest work” from pesticide-free hemp, organic cotton and recycled polyester. These pants and coats entered a market dominated by brands like Carhartt, Dickies and Duluth … and by different end buyers than Patagonia typically targets.

Patagonia’s new clothing line offers a few insights for companies on the journey to expanding their market or hooking a new audience with sustainability messaging. What does that journey take?

  1. A new product that’s true to what the brand is already known for (for Patagonia, quality, durability and sustainability)
  2. No compromises on what the new audience cares about (in this case, performance and durability)
  3. Communications that get all that across and speak to the new audience in terms that resonate

Finding the common ground

Let’s start with #1 and #3. Patagonia’s brand story centers on performance, durability and helping their consumers do what they love to do. It also focuses on sustainability. From Patagonia’s website copy to videos that profile mountain climbers, this self-identified “activist company” typically conveys the urgency of defending our environment. On the website, you can find many instances of words like “fight,” “protect,” and being “free” from this or that.

As Patagonia talks to the Work Wear audience, the story they tell is still about performance and durability. It’s even still about sustainability. To drop that wouldn’t be true to the brand – but they’ve tailored how they talk about sustainability to better fit the Work Wear market. 

The Work Wear story celebrates people who work hard and clothes that do the same. It’s not in opposition to the main brand story, but it certainly sounds different. Gritty yet elegant, the Work Wear landing page and profile videos weave environmental benefits and performance together to seamlessly redefine sustainability as a state of connection – with community, with the land you call home, with the kind of work that satisfies your soul. Environmental benefits of the clothing are neither ignored nor emphasized – they’re positioned as integral to Work Wear’s performance.

No compromises – the product has to perform

That leads us to #2. If the product performance had been lackluster, the rest of the story – the sustainability aspects – would be a moot point.

Historically, many consumers believed a more sustainable product would likely be a poor performer. Happily, we’ve seen that belief dry up over the last few years in our Pulse studies. But consumers still aren’t willing to sacrifice performance.

So it’s fitting that Patagonia has created a product whose fantastic performance and environmental benefits are literally interwoven. This clothing wouldn’t perform as well if it weren’t made from hemp, which they say is “25% more abrasion resistant than conventional cotton duck canvas.” It wouldn’t feel so comfortable if not for the recycled polyester and the organic cotton.

It’s no surprise that Work Wear’s performance is the message that product reviewers have been spreading. Patagonia made the decision to let product reviewers be their primary vehicle for spreading the word about Work Wear. These reviewers write for a wide range of publications, from “Esquire” to “Outside,” “Gear and Grit” to “Best Horse Practices.” Every review I’ve read touts how great it feels to go to work in this clothing.

Reviews from individual product pages on Patagonia’s website echo the praise for performance. Here are a few samples:

  • “I have been looking for a quality work pant to last, and this is it … A way better feel than Carhartts, these pants rock. Being a big supporter of hemp, it is great to support a work pant that utilizes hemp’s unsurpassed durability. Way to go Patagonia for making a pant that will last for years and not break the bank.”
  • “If you wear pants to do real work – carpentry, landscaping, ranch handing, etc. – these were made for us. They will run laps around Carhartts, and make a mockery out of most other ranch supply store brands.”

Are you entering new marketing or product territory in 2018?

  • Don’t isolate the sustainable benefits. Make sustainability integral to your product’s performance, quality or aesthetic – and communicate how it wouldn’t look, feel or perform the same way if it weren’t sustainable. This can help your audience see environmental benefits as more than a “nice to have,” or, coming from a different perspective, more than “activism.”
  • Find the common ground. You value sustainability, perhaps in a category where your target audience isn’t looking for it. See how you can recast your sustainability story in terms of ideas or themes they do value – and that still align with your brand’s purpose. (Take a look at our latest Eco Pulse special report for more about that.)

About the Author

Meghan McDonald

Meghan concepts and writes copy for clients and also reviews creative deliverables for clarity, grammar and brand alignment. She brings an interdisciplinary background in environmental studies and journalism to our team. If you want to know the name of a tree or flower, she’s the one to ask.

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