Identifying Luxury Brands That Care

30-Day Challenge – Day 5

Since my last post, I have begun an investigative search to identify brands that actually care about the issue of responsible business. I am not talking about businesses that pay lip service to corporate social responsibility (CSR), but brands that truly try to act responsibly in all ways. 

I hope that there are many brands out there, but for the purpose of this blog, I will focus on five key business segments: Wines and Spirits; Apparel; Hospitality and Tourism; Jewelry; and Automotive. To start us on out journey, I’d like to pull this old post out of the closet. In there you will find references to companies like PatagoniaWarby Parker, and Monique Pean. Even though some of those companies may not want to consider themselves luxury, one could argue that their social missions and marketing strategies give their products characteristics that fall under the definition of a luxury good: unique, rare, expensive, high quality, and other words you can think up.

The first company I’ll highlight is Patagonia. I recently led an effort to bring the Director of Advanced R&D to the Mason School of Business. Here is a shortened version of a writeup I did in preparation for the event. You can find the full text at: http://blog.wmschoolofbusiness.com/archives/614

Patagonia was founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1972. Not your ordinary entrepreneur, Mr. Chouinard simply started the company as a way to fund his passion for activities such as mountain climbing and surfing. Over time he had to hire staff because his products were in high demand. Today Patagonia is the foremost expert in the development of equipment for silent sports such as alpine climbing, fly fishing, hiking/trekking, rock climbing, ski/snowboarding, surfing, trail running, travel, and yoga. In each of these sports, “reward comes in the form of hard-won grace and moments of connection between us [the user] and nature” (Patagonia.com).

Patagonia’s publicly acknowledges its negative effects on the environment and educates its customers to consume with consideration for the planet. You can see such an acknowledgment in the company’s mission statement:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Some facts that really interest me are:

  • Patagonia is the only company (which I know of) that encourages customers to buy less of its products because of the effects unnecessary consumption can have on the environment;
  • The company does not want to grow fast. Unlike what most academic literature will espouse as good financial performance, Patagonia does not want to grow its business more than 5-7 percent a year. They believe that growing too fast does not afford them the ability to offset some of the damage that its products would cause to the environment; and
  • Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. This certainly would not appeal to many investors in today’s business environment. However, this company is free to pursue its own agenda because it is 100% privately owned.

Patagonia intrigues me because its sustainability practices can actually do more to drive demand for its product and cause its brand to become a fashion “must have”. 

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