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Get full 2015 gear info from 26 brands in the TKB 2015 Buyers Guide.
Patagonia’s Mission Statement encapsulates the company’s philosophy: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” To that end, they use environmentally sensitive materials (organic cotton, recycled and recyclable polyester, and hemp among them), including Yulex, which earned them the SIMA Image Award last year. Patagonia’s Jason McCaffrey answers our questions about some kite-specific products.
Your company gives 1% of your sales to support environmental organizations and is considered one of the most environmentally and socially responsible companies in the world. What set Patagonia on this path? It was pretty much a home grown initiative that has really taken off. It all started in 2002 when our founder Yvon Chouinard, and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, created 1% For the Planet and encouraged other businesses to do the same. 1% For the Planet is an alliance of businesses that understand the necessity of protecting the natural environment. They understand that profit and loss are directly linked to its health, and are concerned with the social and environmental impacts of industry. Today a lot of companies are involved, but the tipping point came when Jack Johnson joined, that really blew the lid off.
Last season, Patagonia introduced Yulex wetsuits to the line and shared the more environmentally-friendly technology with the watersports industry. How have these suits been received by consumers and did other companies embrace the material and integrate into their own products? Yulex has been a hit. We won the SIMA image awards last year which helped us get a ton of press and recognition in the market. Other companies are still looking into Yulex and testing it but a lot of companies are like big ships (especially those that are publicly held) so you can’t pull a 180 degree turn in a heartbeat but instead have to wait until the ship slowly changes course. It’s a large investment to make, but we’re proving that it is worth it, just like we did with organic cotton.
Patagonia wetsuits used to come all wool-lined but in the last few years, now only uses wool in suits made for the coldest conditions. Why? We changed it pretty much because of the overwhelming feedback that it was overbuilt for the temperature range we rated it for (55-60 degrees), but not warm enough for the next temperature range down (48-55 degrees). It was in a bit of a no man’s land and we had to pick a lane. We first introduced the new version that was built using all synthetic linings in fall 2013 to mixed reviews. Not in warmth, flex or durability — that was all the same. It was just a bunch of people that really loved the wool that were bummed. This year in 2014 we continued the evolution and improved seam sealing, seam placement, and flexibility to the point where most people have totally forgotten we ever had wool in R2’s! But still, some regions still long for it so there’s no telling if it will make another appearance.
What is the best way to get the most usage out of Patagonia wetsuits? The best way to take care of any wetsuit is to treat it like you want it to last. Some people can make Any suit last multiple seasons; some people can shred a suit in six months. In general, don’t leave it in the sun, don’t step on one leg to pull the other out when undressing, rinse after each use, the basics really. We all treat our gear like crap so everyone else doesn’t have to. It will hold up but nothing is indestructible. Given normal use and proper care, these suits should last you at least two full seasons which to us means two full winters. We have a pretty crazy R&D/repair center to handle things when they do go wrong and that’s located on campus so as we design, we see where our current design may have weak points and it informs us as we continue to rethink the line.
TKB ran a story in the winter 2013 issue on Patagonia’s trip to Alaska where a neoprene drysuit was tested and later released to the market in 2014. Is this product still in the line or did the new Kite Gore-Tex Kiting Suit replace it? It has been completely replaced by the Gore-Tex Kiting Suit. That original suit worked great, but layering, comfort and usability cannot be matched when compared to the Gore-Tex suit. We really learned a lot about this on the Chile trip last december. When we were given a choice, we all picked the Gore-Tex suit first as it was easiest to slip on over base layers, was quick to put on, and was always dry. I remember we anchored one night at midnight and the wind was blowing like 15-17 knots. It was midnight, and there was a full moon. Slezy was on the fence about giving it a go, but we joked earlier about how the suit made for “no excuses not to go out” and before the engines had a chance to cool down, he was suited up and ready to ride.
Patagonia is now the main sponsor of Kiteboarding4Cancer, an annual event in the Columbia Gorge which raises money for Athletes 4 Cancer Camp Koru’s Survivorship Program. Why did Patagonia choose to sponsor this particular event? That came about pretty naturally as well when Slezy came on board. Tonia Farman puts on the event and she invited us up because it was a good time. We were there about six hours and before I knew it, I was on a team and we were riding. that’s it. We were locked in. The event is amazing. To be able to be a part of something that helps so many people so much is a no brainer. Also, having known so many people that have won and lost their battles with cancer, we couldn’t really pass it up. We’ve been a part of a lot of events, but this one makes us feel the best. Plus it’s like the who’s who of kiting. The best guys in the world show up to throw down and it’s really great for all of the spectators.
Where is Patagonia in the development process with its Self- Portable Inflation (PSI) Vest? Do you think this product will be useful for kitesurfers? I think it will be. We have a select crew testing it for us now to make sure harness wear doesn’t compromise the internal bladder, and also to see how the vest in its current configuration integrates with the harnesses made by different companies. We’re not done yet, but so far everything is testing ok.
What is Patagonia’s Common Threads program all about? Common Threads is a partnership based on the Five R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle and Reimagine.
Reduce: We promise to make gear that lasts, we ask people to not buy stuff they don’t need.
Reuse: We promise to fix our stuff, when it breaks, we ask that people promise to fix what is broken.
Repair: With worn wear, we help find a new home for old gear, and we ask that people do the same and pass on stuff they no longer need or use. Recycle: We’ll recycle stuff that wears out one way or another, but we ask that people promise to bring it to us so we can do so.
Reimagine: Lastly, we do all of this and show that it’s possible for a company to be financially responsible and better for the environment; people and companies alike can help reduce our collective footprint.
What is the difference between Patagonia’s regular fleece and regulator fleece products? The material itself is all the same, but regulator refers the grid pattern that sits next to skin that creates dead air space in base layers which adds warmth. Our wetsuits use the same regulator grid technology. We adapted the concept from our years of experience making baselayers for cold places in the mountains and applied it early on to our first wetsuits. It worked and now it’s a patented technology that you can see copied by other wetsuit brands now.
New for 2015 is Patagonia’s Nano-Air jacket which won Outside Magazine’s 2015 Gear of the year award. What’s so special about this product? Well, that jacket is a runaway hit. The insulation is really light but it’s synthetic so it stays dry and won’t wet out no matter what. Overheating and sweating can happen a lot in high output activities. The shell itself is a four-way mechanical stretch that feels like it’s a part of you, literally. And because it’s so breathable, you never feel like you need to take it off, ever. Each part of the jacket is constructed differently (depending on where they are) to manage heat, moisture and breathability. In the end though all you have to do is touch one and feel how light it is and you’re sold.