Aspen Princess: Patagonia sticks to its principles | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Princess: Patagonia sticks to its principles

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Princess

A long, long time ago, when I was still in my 20s and had no idea that I would eventually age, I got to see Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, speak at the Transworld Snowboarding Industry Conference in Whistler, British Columbia.

The industry conference was one of my favorite events of the year. Transworld's publishers would pick a five-star hotel at a top-notch resort and invite about 200 people from the snowboarding industry, including advertisers, manufacturers, photographers and staff for four days of snowboarding, panel discussions and of course, parties. During my tenure at the magazine, we went to Banff, Jackson Hole, Vail, and did two years at Whistler. Every year, no matter where we went, it snowed.

It was always a bit of a blur — the powder days, the late nights, the characters who occupied my world then. What I remember from that week, sometime in the mid-'90s, was the beautiful salmon sashimi at Sushi Village; the eucalyptus steam room at Chateau Whistler; the go-go dancers who performed day and night in the window displays at Showcase, a local snowboard shop; and the Canadian photographer I was madly in love with who put up with my affections only because he had to. (I am still embarrassed about that, especially in lieu of all these sexual harassment cases that are coming out now, knowing in my heart of hearts that I was the one doing the sexual harassing).

Even though the week was mostly about snowboarding, partying and schmoozing, we did get down to business every evening before dinner for our panel discussions. We'd pack into a conference room and do our best to use whatever brain cells we had left to discuss the business of snowboarding.

This was during the Clinton years when the world felt like a pretty safe place. The Cold War had, well, cooled off, the economy was booming and the snowboarding industry was on fire. It was a heyday for the magazine, which was often printing issues up to 500 pages long, as big as the fall fashion issue of Vogue. There were over 200 snowboard manufacturers in existence back then, so it seemed like everyone and anyone could become a pro snowboarder, and thanks to the multitude of random companies cropping up in Japan, they all had their own pro model snowboard.

Chouinard was not an obvious choice for a snowboarding industry conference guest speaker at a time when snowboarding prided itself on being counterculture and went to great lengths to distance itself from the mainstream. Not that Patagonia was mainstream, per se, but it was certainly not an endemic snowboard apparel brand.

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Still, Chouinard appeared like some kind of messiah, with the kind of aura reserved for the very wise and respected. Before he even opened his mouth, we sat in uncharacteristic silence and reverie, even if we didn't yet understand why. He spoke about what it meant to be an environmentally conscious company, and this was long before words like "sustainability" were part of the pop culture vernacular. He showed us the new packaging for the eponymous Capeline long-underwear line, which was essentially no packaging, just an elastic band and a label made from recycled paper.

We gave him a standing ovation, one that lasted a little too long, as if we were at a rock concert, hoping he would come back out onto the stage for an encore performance if we clapped hard enough and long enough.

I would later visit Patagonia headquarters in Ventura for a freelance gig I had somehow managed to wrangle doing a promotional trip to Costa Rica for Patagonia's new women's surf line, Water Girl (which has since been rebranded as Patagonia Women's Surf). Perched atop a hill surrounded by trees overlooking the ocean, its idyllic beauty felt suspended in a way that only happens on college campuses and artist retreats, where inspiration seeps out of everything, through the soles of your shoes, up your spine and out your third eye like snot from your nose on a cold winter day. I drove away with seven surfboards strapped to the roof of my Subaru and three boxes of women's surf apparel stuffed into the back and headed south on the 101 feeling like I had just been to the Dalai Lama's house.

Little did I know back then how important and prophetic Chouinard message was. Protecting the environment had become part of the conversation and I knew it was important to recycle, but I had no idea how dire the threat would become, or that it would come from our own president.

When I logged onto Patagonia's website the other day to shop for technical outerwear that my 2-year-old cannot live without, I felt my chest swell with emotion to discover a landing page with a simple message: "The President Stole Your Land."

Like many, I am becoming numb to the shock of daily headlines about the incomprehensible actions of this lunatic who has invaded our country. It's gotten to the point where I've had to turn it off for my own sanity, disabling notifications on my phone and going back to reading the tabloids (Megan Markle's engagement to Prince Harry being the best news I've heard in a long time, though it's still alarming that the stiff-lipped Brits are the ones to have become modern and liberal enough to allow an American divorcee who is half African American into the royal family while we are about to see a child molester get elected into the U.S. Senate. See, it's impossible to avoid).

I just want to thank Mr. Chouinard for taking action at a time when so many of us are experiencing a sort of political paralysis, if only because we feel so helpless. And more importantly, for saying it like it is.

The Princess can't wait to get her Micro Puff Hoody, even though she was supposed to be Christmas shopping. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.