Patagonia – the California-based clothing company that last winter announced its new corporate mission is to “Save the Planet” – might be planning a stealth offensive.
For the first time ever, the environmentally active business that helped bring Alaska “amateur bear expert” Timothy Treadwell is marketing camouflage outerwear.
Patagonia bills its “Bear Witness Camo” in wind shells, down sweaters, bike jerseys and more as a “new color.”
Camouflage clothing has traditionally been marketed to hunters and the military – groups Patagonia has in the generally tried to avoid. Thus the new color caught the attention of Rod Arno, director of the Alaska Outdoor Council.
“Crack me up,” the leader of the state’s largest hunting and fishing organization. “The anti-hunting outdoor clothing manufacture has to sell camo now to stay in business?
“For years, I took a picture of myself and Patagonia gear with a dead animal, and they sent it back every year saying they did not support hunting.”
Patagonia has not revealed its motives for going camo, but the “color” is trending in fashion markets. The company founded by climber Yvon Chouinard has long had a strong fashion sense and good timing which, along with some higher prices, has sometimes led to Patagonia being mocked in Alaska as Pata-Gucchi.
“The motif is masculine, muted, and not complicated to reproduce on the cheap, which makes it too tempting for designers and brands both high and low to pass up,” wrote the magazine’s Megan Gustashaw.
Yes, you can’t get much more masculine than combat attire.
A well-meaning company that reports to have “awarded over $89 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups” since 1985, Patagonia has over the years helped support a variety of 49th state environmental groups from the Alaska Center for the Environment (now The Alaska Center) to Trustees for Alaska to Treadwell, who claimed to be protecting the bears of Kamai National Park and Preserve by getting up close and personal with them until one killed and ate him and his girlfriend.
Trustees, a public interest law firm, is now in court trying to stop construction of a long-contested road across the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Southwest Alaska. The Alaska Center now has among its major issues “democracy” and was active in the fight to stop Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget cuts.
All of the Alaska groups backed by Patagonia have generally been active in opposing any new development in Alaska, but Patagonia has never been publicly active in serious opposition to hunting.
Despite that, Arno’s observations are echoed by others. A northern Alaska photographer, who asked not to be named, remembered sending the company a photo of himself next to a nice bull caribou while wearing a Patagonia pile jacket.
The company publishes a catalog that features photos of Patagonia-clad recreationists engaged in all sort of activities. None of them are, however, hunting.
“They returned the photo, saying no thanks and included a copy of their photo guidelines,” the photographer remembered.
- “No dead animals
- “No Skidoos (snowmobiles)
- “No ATVs
- ”We are catch and release fishermen
- ‘Never dress Native people in our gear and photograph them
- ‘The boss has a weakness for blond women doing cool stuff
- “Well-composed, spirited photos of x,y, Z”
- And so on.
The photographer admitted to being a bit naive in the past, but speculated that “maybe the company is growing up or trying to break into another market (now). Regardless, I’ll bet they’re getting hate mail from the purists for marketing camo gear.”
Or not. Maybe everyone recognizes Patagonia is simply going where the market is.
Realtree, a company that built its brand on unique camouflage patterns for hunters, noticed the latest trend gearing up two years ago.
“With over 25 years in the apparel industry, I have seen my share of camo trends come and go, but I have never seen a sea of camo in so many variations of patterns and combinations. The use of color ranged from bright purple to classic drab olives and tonal black. There were many graphic overlays combining traditional 1950’s hunting images on top of modern-looking camo patterns.
“The Streetwear brands are clearly leading the charge in the new millennial camo-trend direction….Trends come and go, but this time, camo has been embraced by the entire outdoor, action sports, street wear and high-end fashion industries. Naturally this has created a lifestyle movement of grand proportions.”
Camo, he observed, seemed to be influential in all markets but millenials are the latest retail target. RealTree has been trying to move into that market with a line of fitness wear and camo formal wear up to and including camo wedding dresses.
Patagonia, which built its reputation on solidly functional outdoor gear, has since its birth in the 1970s been adept at spotting these sorts of market trends. The companies latest move could simply be an indication that camo is the new black.