How Patagonia’s Packaging and Branding is Pushing the Fashion Industry Towards Sustainability
by Theresa Christine Johnson on 03/10/2022 | 5 Minute Read
“We’re in business to save our home planet.”
Patagonia began as a small tools company for climbers and has grown into a global clothing and gear brand. Simply put, it exists for people who love the outdoors, made by people who love the outdoors, and who want to preserve our planet and make it better for tomorrow.
Patagonia isn’t just about selling you the trendiest fleece of the season or the next best new hiking shirts, though—they have environmental and animal welfare responsibility programs, they actively work to ensure their products get produced under safe, fair, legal, and humane working conditions, and they believe in transparency when it comes to consumers knowing when and where their items get made.
When it comes to sustainability with branding and packaging, Jennifer Patrick, global head of packaging and branding at Patagonia, and her team want their impact to be in the minds of consumers and not as crumpled up paper and plastic in the trash. To do that, Patagonia enthusiastically embraces technology to minimize what’s required on their products. To Jennifer, advances like QR codes or Near Field Communication (NFC) are the future of packaging.
“It's endless, what you can do with digital assets and digital points on packaging and branding,” said Jennifer. “And people are excited about it and want to use it. People are willing to engage with technology, so for the packaging community, that means we can use less material.”
One area Patagonia has made successful changes is with their hang tags. By utilizing QR codes, they managed to reduce overall paper usage by 174 thousand pounds. Patagonia can now direct consumers exactly where they want them to go, whether it’s to a video on how to style something to background information on the farmers that sourced their materials.
Imagine you’re in a store and looking at a pair of Patagonia pants. By scanning the QR code, you could be taken to the Patagonia page for that exact item, in that precise color, in that same region of the world you’re in. Say goodbye to flipping through hangtag inserts to try and find just what you’re looking for.
“In my mind, it’s a creative challenge,” Jennifer explained. “We're not eliminating designers’ jobs, we're challenging you. We can make this tighter, and we don't have to put as much copy or as many translations on it. So how does that empower us to think about packaging?"
"That's what I'm challenging my creative team with.”
Patagonia chose this direction not just because it’s what they wanted— ultimately, their consumers wanted it. Customers told the brand that they didn’t really care for all those inserts, and often they’d cut them off and throw them in the garbage bin before taking a second glance. If they wanted to find details on how to care for a garment or the best way to pack a piece of luggage, they probably got past the point of referring to a hang tag anyway.
“You’re going down a road where you’re providing information that’s not utilized in the way you’d hoped,” Jennifer said. “And that’s the problem. Sometimes in this creative realm, we think that we want to tell these stories because we worked so hard for them. And we get so attached to that. But how is your customer looking at that, and when is that important? You can’t push people to engage if they don’t want to engage.”
Transitioning to something more tech-centered and eco-friendly obviously required an investment on the part of Patagonia, but it’s proven to be worth the money and effort. Jennifer didn’t even mention brand loyalty (something the company has plenty of); instead, she pointed out tangible points that show how sustainability makes financial sense. Aside from using fewer materials, Patagonia can alter content due to various changes in legal regulations or asset information. Last month, she said the company is already working on the Fall 2023 line, and a lot can happen between now and then.
Previously, if hangtag inserts had to be changed after they’d gone to print or were attached, time and resources would go to making those alterations and removing those old inserts. Now, all it takes is someone to edit whatever’s at the end of that QR code. Jennifer stated they’ve saved close to a year’s worth of time by making their shift to digital, and those efficiencies save money.
So why aren’t all brands dropping everything and immediately adopting tech-focused solutions like QR codes? Quite simply, it’s change—something people naturally push back against.
“Internal change and education take time. You have to be committed to that change and communicating the benefits and making sure that everybody understands how to use the tool,” Jennifer said. On the consumer end, QR codes are becoming more prevalent. You may have even seen them yourself in television commercials, billboards, or as a substitute for menus in a restaurant. But the teams putting this work out into the world have to possess a deep knowledge of it, too.
“I’m really focusing on internal right now because if our marketers don’t understand how to use the tool and how to communicate with the customer, it falls flat. And if we don’t manage that season to season, then that opportunity to communicate with our customers is lost.”
Of course, the answer isn’t just to slap QR codes on everything everywhere—that would only overwhelm and muddy the brand’s message. Part of Jennifer’s work of incorporating technology into packaging is keeping things tight, focused, and consistent, finding the best way to share information with customers that intrigues them. But she’s certainly up for the challenge.
“What’s exciting to me is that there’s so much opportunity with these elements where there wasn't before,” Jennifer said. “We’re not sold on the QR code. We’re sold on the future of how people are engaging with information. It’s wildly growing towards technology and the online space, so regardless of what the technology is, I think companies need to think about the future and really push towards that.”