Invisible fashion

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.

“Camouflage Is Back (Yes, Again) and Here’s How to Wear It,” GQ magazine headlined late last summer.

“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.

Good intentions

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.

“Throughout my recent travels, there was one consistent trend that was everywhere, camo!” Anthony Quiroz wrote on the company blog after a summer of attending U.S. clothing tradeshows.

“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.













12 replies »

  1. Wait a minute are you guys talking about the same Yvon Chouinard who for decades has promoted jerking fish out of the rivers with a hook by their mouth for his entertainment and then throwing them back?
    Yep, I’ve seen his picture. More of the hypocrisy .

  2. I could care less about supposed controvesy.While i probably wouldnt fork over bucks for new outer patagonia ware(unless it was second hand nearly new).I dont hesitate to spend up in the base layers.
    Hands down the best,quite often when not in season I’ll grudgingly pay down for second tier stuff.
    Controversy is where u want to imagine it i guess,Im far to busy working 6days/wk,from may to halloween-

  3. I wore camo in peace and war for 25 years. I prefer Duluth Trading attire now, comfortable and functional.

  4. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard: ‘Denying climate change is evil’…
    The octogenarian entrepreneur, who prefers gardening to meetings, says capitalism is destroying earth…
    Nor does he hold out much hope for government to force big business to act more responsibly. Politicians are “pawns of corporations” says the man who, together with a coalition of indigenous North American tribes and grassroots groups, is currently suing the Trump administration for attempts to reduce the size of ancestral lands in Utah.”

    • Guy sounds like a lunatic. Of course once you get rich using capitalism it’s all the rage to virtue signal and claim to hate it. Typical lefty nonsense and hypocrisy, if he was a man of conviction he would burn his stores down and stop profiting off of the labor of others. Instead he talks a big game that the mindless sheep will follow all while paying top dollar for a symbolic outer wrapping.

      • At least he is man enough to put his name behind his political convictions…

      • I put my name behind my political convictions all the time, if you ever review public comments on the issues I care about you will see my name. I choose not to put my name into a public internet forum, for many (seemingly) obvious reasons.

  5. Something for millennials to wear while having fantasies about being ANTIFA warriors, I guess. The pattern isn’t even very original; looks a lot like the pattern UnderArmor has been peddling as their fashion statement tres spendy camo pattern. I worked camo at Cabela’s for the first couple of years after it opened and we sold a LOT of camo. Cabela’s customers weren’t shy with money and even they wouldn’t spring for the UnderArmor stuff because of the price. These “blobs of color” patterns are really just fashion statements; they don’t resemble anything in nature and even if you’re still the pattern doesn’t fit into any natural background. You’re still shaped like a human and the camo pattern does nothing to help you with that.

    Some of the trademarked camo like the Mossy Oak and Realtree Patterns or the old Cabela’s private label patterns that have now disappeared with the Bass Pro acquisition would at least allow you to blend into a background and if you were still be inconspicuous. Some of the very spendy real camo such as Sitka, Kryptek, and the right aim for confusing the prey animal so that it can’t identify what it is seeing and many guides and hunters swore by them and thought they were worth the money. That said, I doubt much more than a third of the Sitka I sold was ever used for anything other than getting from the door to the car.

    And, you’re right all of it is made in Asia at slave labor wages. Some of the Godawful price of the premium Gore-Tex stuff is somewhat justified by how labor intensive it is to meet Gore-Tex’s labeling standards and design standards for every feature; all the zippers have to be waterproof, all the seams taped, all the pockets waterproof with waterproof zippers, not flaps, fitted or gasketed cuffs, and on. This stuff quickly turns a $200 jacket into a $400 jacket.

  6. I find this hilarious. I think a campaign should be started bombarding Patagonia with photos of their clothing on “skidoo’s” (that is where I mostly wear mine), with dead animals, dead fish, dead birds, especially grouse, on fishing boats, on, gasp, native people, whom actually are capable of dressing themselves and taking their own pictures, on redheads & brunettes, even used as dog bedding (we have an old snap pullover that routinely gets slept on by the Springer spaniel), oh, and definitely with guns. Lastly, do they not understand that snow machines are heavily used for grooming cross country ski trails?

  7. Preservationist companies like Patagonia have been passing themselves off as “Conservationist” for decades. Meanwhile hunters, trappers, anglers and shooters continue to pay the bills for wildlife restoration. Since 1937 hunters, trappers, anglers, and shooters agreed to tax themselves nationwide on firearms, ammunition, and outdoor gear under the Pittman Robertson Act for the purpose of restoring wildlife.
    Meanwhile the elitist Pata-Gucchi crowd continue to believe they leave no carbon footprint by filing their closet with designer gear, mostly made by underpaid Asian workers. No shortage of hypocrisy from this retailer.

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