California Dreamland Visionary
Yvon Chouinard – Founder, Patagonia
If you’re rock climber or mountaineer, his name is the stuff of legends. If you do anything active outdoors, you probably know of him too—or his company, Patagonia, one of the premier labels for quality outerwear. He’s Yvon Chouinard—a celebrated mountaineer and also one of the most successful and influential individuals in the outdoor industry today.
Chouinard got his start as a California teenager, climbing and rappelling down the sandstone cliffs of Stoney Point northeast of Los Angeles, at Tahquitz Canyon near Palm Springs, and eventually at the ultimate climbing destination, Yosemite. At the time, pitons were used once to secure ropes, then left behind. Chouinard decided to make his own reusable pitons out of steel. They were a hit with other climbers, and soon, Chouinard was making pitons in winter, climbing and surfing in summer. In 1965, he went into partnership with aeronautical engineer and fellow climber Tom Frost, redesigning and improving almost every climbing tool. In the early ‘70s, Chouinard launched the clothing line Patagonia, which turned outerwear from chinos and sweats to vibrantly colored garments that were more than functional—they looked good too.
But Chouinard has done more than revolutionize climbing; he has revolutionized business ethics too. Around 1970, he became aware that steel pitons were causing significant damage to Yosemite’s celebrated pitches, leading to promotion of climbing devices that left rocks unaltered. This green ethic is at the core of all of Chouinard’s work. Since 1985, Patagonia has awarded well over $40 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups.