From the literary journal’s archives
Yvon Chouinard is the founder of outdoor clothing maker Patagonia. Chouinard learned early in his life as an alpinist, surfer, and fly fisherman the seriousness of the environmental crisis — and he made this the focus of his company. In the 1980s he instituted Patagonia’s earth tax, pledging 1 percent of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. Since then Chouinard has co-founded the Fair Labor Association, One Percent for the Planet, the Textile Exchange, the Conservation Alliance, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. In 2012, Patagonia started a food division, Patagonia Provisions, and began publishing books.
Chouinard continues to surf and fly fish. He is the author or co-author of Climbing Ice, Let My People Go Surfing (Penguin Press), The Responsible Company, Simple Fly Fishing and Some Stories (Patagonia Books).
Brian Schott, Mike Powers and Ryan Friel spoke with Mr. Chouinard two weeks after his 80th birthday on November 20, 2018.
Yvon Chouinard: I’m a happy guy. I’ve had enough near death experiences that if somebody told me I have terminal cancer, I would say, “Okay, I am not going to fight it.” There is a beginning and end to everything. That’s kind of the Zen in me. And so be it. I have accepted the fact that I am going to die and a lot of people don’t accept that. In the ’69 oil spill in [Santa Barbara], California, all the beaches were covered in oil and all these birds were there covered in oil — couldn’t swim, couldn’t do anything. People would go around and poke them with sticks and stuff. Me and my kids, who were real young then, would go around and pull their heads off to get them out of their misery. Not many people think that is a good thing to do … [they’d rather] just let them suffer until they finally die on their own.
Brian Schott: So how about the calculation of risk over your life? You have taken a lot of risks, personal risks in your adventures, risks in your business. Can you trace the arc of risk over your life so far?
YC: Well, you know, I love change. I am one of those people who love change. I don’t look at the past; I don’t look at the future much. I am just sitting here talking to you right now. I don’t see a lot of the things I have done as risky, but I do believe in having adventures. Any definition of adventure in Webster’s has to have an element of risk. Whether it is a financial adventure or whatever. And the word has gotten so watered down that you sign up for a so-called “adventure travel trip” and that guarantees you will not have an adventure. Everything is so controlled. So myself and friends like Rick Ridgeway, Doug Tompkins and so forth, we have always left the door open for our screw-ups. [Laughs] So that is when the adventure begins.
I was with Doug Peacock and Tom Brokaw and some friends, Doug Tompkins, on an old Russian helicopter. We were going to kayak down this river that has never been kayaked before in the Russian Far East. And we have one map and Peacock opens the window of the helicopter and the map goes flying out!
Ryan Friel: That doesn’t sound like Peacock at all. [Laughter]
YC: Brokaw’s mouth just dropped. The rest of us are high-fiving each other and saying, “Great! We are going to have an adventure.”
RF: You were in a Sikorsky S-55 and you didn’t know where you were!
YC: Well, we knew to just go downstream.
Mike Powers: I think sometimes people are looking for a map for every decision and step forward in life now, which is part of the issue.
YC: We’re successful in business here because of breaking the rules. I love breaking the rules. And that’s what keeps me in business. And if we tried to do it like everybody else, we would have been out of business a long time ago. I don’t see it as risk at all. I gave a little commencement speech a couple of years ago to some college. I told the kids, “Look, it is a lot easier to go through life breaking the rules than trying to conform to them. Make it easy on yourself.” [Laughter]
To read the full interview in issue #23 or to purchase other issues, the Whitefish Review is available locally or by ordering online at www.whitefishreview.org, as well as in nearly 200 Barnes & Noble stores nationwide.