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Scaling New Heights – The Story of Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard


Let us tell you a tale. One of adventure and opportunity. Maybe even a little magic. After all, don’t the great success stories have all three?

Once upon a time (yeah, we’re really leaning into this), there was a man named Yvon Chouinard. 

Adventure and Mother Nature were the great loves of his life. Like a parental duo of sorts, they provided him with love, activity, and purpose. He was an outdoors purist. Passionate about the environment’s protection and outdoor appreciation. An advocate for both.

A self-proclaimed craftsman, Yvon found fulfillment as an avid rock climber. Like the north to his south, the mountains drew him in like a magnet. The tug was so strong—so frequent, so pressing—that he realized he needed a way to finance his outdoor adventures.

Harnessing his blacksmith skills to forge climbing tools, Yvon created a startup climbing equipment company. As you do. 

He named his company Chouinard Equipment. 

Guided by his love for the environment and his passion for rock climbing, Chouinard Equipment sold climbing equipment to outdoor enthusiasts and climbing connoisseurs.  

Then 1968 happened. And everything changed. Or rather – it evolved.

A New Beginning

That year, Yvon took a trip to South America with his fellow friends and wildlings: The North Face’s co-founder Doug Tompkins, rock climber Chris Jones, U.S. ski/snowboard Hall of Famer Dick Dorworth, and Mountainfilm founder Lito Tejada-Flores. Each of whom were no stranger to the wonderment of the wild and the endless passion for the pursuit for MORE: more memories, more grit, more truth, more beauty, more adrenaline. 

There’s strength in numbers, after all. 

They were a crew carrying around unlimited vision and adventurous spirit, guided by their north stars and inner compasses to help them find what they were looking for. The group traveled 5,000 miles in a white Ford van, from Ventura, California to Patagonia, South America. They documented it every step of the way.

During that trip, Mother Nature did what she always does: she inspired. She stretched Yvon’s mind while he used his body to climb. 

Thanks to that transformative trip, Yvon decided to change the name of his company. 

This fresh moniker would reflect the feeling of being alive… of trying new things… of soaring to greater heights and scaling the summit of life: a direct inspiration from Yvon’s life-changing trip.


It was not just a name: it was a symbol. Patagonia may sound strange when you first say it out loud… but must we not forget, strange can also mean unique. And unique means memorable. 

He didn’t know it back then, but in changing the business name to Patagonia, Yvon took another step towards an important climb for the business. It cast a wider net. It reached a bigger demographic. 

Now—nearly five decades later—Patagonia is a multi-billion-dollar outdoor clothing retailer: a global brand and successful business that is synonymous with outdoor appreciation, environmental activism and philanthropic efforts. 

From sweatshirts to backpacks to socks to hats and everything in between, Patagonia is a beloved brand that avid outdoors folks often turn to as they prepare for their next great adventure. 

Look around. You’ll see it. Your multi-colored hat. Her fleece sweatshirt. The stranger at the grocery store’s burgundy coat.

They all feature that primary Patagonia logo—with its defined mountain top and recognizable typeface surrounded by a square—placed on all sorts of gear and worn with pride. 

Patagonia has become so recognizable that it topples search engine results, taking us to the brand’s site rather than spilling out information about the actual region in South America.

Yvon put Patagonia on the map – even if it was already there.

When the Wild Calls

Born in 1938, Yvon is now 84-years-old. He’s a walking success story. 

But success doesn’t just lie in the numbers. It’s in Yvon’s way of life. 

He’s proof that you don’t have to fit some stereotypical business model to be successful in the outdoors arena. You can be unapologetically yourself, unchained to the typical trappings that create the cornerstone of corporate success: Wealth. Things. Titles. Material excess.

Yvon didn’t exactly want to be in the business of business. At his core, he’s an outdoorsman. A wildling. An adventurer. The mountains are his Wall Street. The outdoors is his ideal office. 

Who needs ceilings when you have sky?

Yvon carries an unapologetic disdain for that stereotypical success story of fame and riches, proven through his unconventional actions. He has stayed true to himself, refusing to swap out his tried-and-true roots for sleek and shiny toys. 

He doesn’t have a savings account. He told a reporter he prefers to be called a “dirtbag.” He doesn’t drive a fancy car. 

Mother Nature doesn’t have a problem with it. So why would Yvon?

Making an Impact

Yvon’s life is a testament to passion and purpose: how you can love the outdoors, then share it with the world. How our relationship with Mother Nature can be mutually beneficial. How she can give to us, and we can give back.

Philanthropy is one of Yvon’s cardinal directions printed on his moral compass. When he learned he was one of the world’s richest people – a billionaire— Yvon did not see it as great success.

He saw it as a moral failure.

Throughout his life, Yvon has strived to make the world a better place. He has an attitude of giving back, not taking away or keeping from. 

That’s why Yvon couldn’t keep his billionaire status. So he gave it away.

In September 2022, Yvon made headlines when he decided to trade in his billionaire status and sell his portion of Patagonia.

“Earth is now our only shareholder,” Yvon said in a message to staff and customers. “Instead of ‘going public’, you could say we’re ‘going purpose’. Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.”

Worth close to $3 billion, the company’s non-voting stock will now be owned by a collective. All profits that aren’t reinvested into the business will be utilized to fight climate change.

See? More proof that there are no rules to success because success looks different for everyone. Yvon is sticking to the foundation and values that have stayed with him – just like his love for the outdoors. 

Yvon knows that when the wild calls, you answer. Even if that wild means starting a business. Even if it means selling your business. 

But when you answer that call, you sure as hell better not pretend to be someone else on the other end of the line.

At the end of the day, this tale of Patagonia is a classic love story of sorts. Because you can’t have a successful business without love: love for the product. The purpose. The people.

And don’t the great success stories have all three?

About Giving Gratitude

We tell stories to help you discover what it is that makes you feel… alive. In our industry, there are plenty of people who inspire us to do just that. Whether they’re scaling mountains or moving them, these dream chasers – Pathfinders, as we call them – motivate us. So in celebration of them, we’re Giving Gratitude by sharing their stories with you. Hopefully, you’ll feel as alive as we do.

Find Your Moment