Ryan Gellert stepped in as Patagonia’s General Manager Europe in November 2014. He reveals to Fusion Associates how he intends to further the American brand’s position on the European market, while underlining Patagonia’s core values and the innovations that enhance them.
Which are the most interesting– and challenging– aspects of your new role, and what are your immediate goals?
I’ve been with Patagonia for about four months, yet it feels a lot longer since I’ve worn its products for years and spent the past decade and a half working in a variety of roles for Black Diamond; its origins go back to Chouinard Equipment, which – like Patagonia – was founded by Yvon Chouinard. The most inspiring aspect of the role is the opportunity to introduce Patagonia to a broader community across Europe while strengthening existing relationships.
My immediate goals are to ensure that we have the people and plans in place to deliver on our mission – to build the best product in the most responsible way while causing no unnecessary harm– while ensuring that we are good commercial partners to our dealer-base. I don’t think we have done as good a job as we can on the second part in Europe and I want to change that quickly. We are currently filling key positions that will allow us to do so while also investing in the operational infrastructure to support the business.
Patagonia is known as much for its sustainable approach as its technically advanced product. What are the latest moves in securing ethical production?
Beginning in fall 2014, Patagonia down products contain only 100% Traceable Down, which means the down in all of our products can be traced back to birds that were never force-fed, never live-plucked. This standard provides the highest assurance of animal welfare in the apparel industry – and we’re actively working to encourage other brands to strive for this high standard as well. In October, we announced a new line of Fair Trade Certified clothing – one of the very first available from any clothing manufacturer – starting with a handful of styles in fall 2014.
As far as what’s next, in fall 2015 we are overhauling our denim program to ensure that Patagonia Denim uses only 100% organic cotton grown without polluting fertilizers, poisonous pesticides, or herbicides. A low-impact dyeing process allows us to dramatically reduce water, energy and chemical use and produce less carbon dioxide. We also never distress our denim with harsh chemicals or other methods. Finally, with Fair Trade Certified sewing, we believe that Patagonia Denim is the way denim should be made.
The Worn Wear program is another sustainable Patagonia invention. How does it work in practice?
The Worn Wear® program celebrates the durability of our product and the fact that it can be handed down from generation to generation and that you can bring it back to us and we’ll repair it. We believe that one of the most responsible things we can do as a company is to make high-quality stuff that lasts for years and can be repaired, so you don’t have to buy more of it. Extending the life of our clothing by just nine months would result in a 20-30 % reduction in carbon, waste and water footprints stemming from the production, use and disposal of clothing. That has more impact than any changes we could make in fibre choice, production practices, laundering and recycling.
To help drive this message, the Malloy family (Patagonia Surf Ambassadors) have produced a short film to share the stories of Patagonia customers and their beloved Patagonia gear that has stood the test of time. In addition to Worn Wear, we have also worked on a repair program with iFixit co-publishing a series of free repair guides for Patagonia clothing. We also sell an Expedition Sewing Kit in our retail stores and online, encouraging customers to repair old products instead of buying new.
As for technical innovation, you launched the active insulation range Nano Air last autumn. Which are its most significant qualities and what sets it apart?
It provides great thermal efficiency for high-output, stop-and-go activities like cold weather trail running, ski touring, alpine climbing, or backpacking. We have combined a plain-weave liner, warm-when-wet proprietary insulation and a lightweight but durable DWR-treated shell to create a collection that is soft, super stretchy and allows for a close athletic fit over a simple base layer. The combination strikes a perfect balance between breathability and wind protection. I wore the Nano Air Hoody while climbing after dark in Yosemite last fall and wear the jacket version nearly every day while cycling to and from the office here in Amsterdam. If it is raining or snowing hard I just add a lightweight waterproof shell.
What textile innovations and techniques will be unveiled next?
We will continue to push forward in as many ways as we can to embrace better methods of producing and consuming products of all kinds. The constant re-examination of our products is the best example of this – be it by bringing plant-based Yulex rubber to market, creating room for companies to source down humanely, or expanding our sustainable wool program to include other brands. As a recent example, Stella McCartney is currently sourcing wool from our project in Argentina.
Patagonia opened its seventh store in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, last summer. Traditionally you’ve chosen locations that resonate with the brand in some way. How so in this case?
The store is situated in the heart of the Dolomites. Both the town and the building in which the store is housed, Hotel de la Poste, are historically important to us. The building is the very location in which Patagonia was first available in Italy via our original partners, the Lacedelli family.
Are you planning further store openings?
We are currently looking at opportunities in a few locations but nothing pending at the moment. We want to ensure that our existing stores as well as future ones give visitors a deep understanding of the brand – its history, its mission and our key seasonal stories – in environments that are social, inspiring and provide exceptional customer service.