Yvon Chouinard is an American rock climber and maker of outdoor gear. Patagonia, founded by the well-known outdoor enthusiast and entrepreneur Yvon Chouinard, is well-known for its eco-friendly, stylish outdoor gear and apparel. One could argue that Yvon Chouinard is the most “reluctant” billionaire in the world. Patagonia earns about $100 million annually in earnings off of yearly retail sales of $1 billion. The company was valued at $3 billion, making Yvon’s personal wealth equal to that amount.
In addition to producing the documentaries “DamNation” (2014), “Artificial” (2019), and “Public Trust,” Chouinard has published the books “Climbing Ice” (1978), “Let My People Go Surfing” (2005), “The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia’s First 40 Years” (2012), and “Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel” (2014). (2020).
On November 9, 1938, Yvon Chouinard entered this world in Lewiston, Maine. His French Canadian dad was an all-around handyman, mechanic, and plumber. After relocating to Southern California with his family in 1947, Yvon became involved with the Sierra Club and the Southern California Falconry Club while still a young man.
At the age of 14, while scouting for falcon aeries, Chouinard started rock climbing with the help of his friends Tom Frost and Royal Robbins. Yvon began selling his reusable climbing hardware to his buddies for $1.50 apiece after he learned how to blacksmith in 1957. Because of this, Yvon started the company Chouinard Equipment, Ltd.
The documentary Valley Uprising, released in 2014, focuses on the “Golden Age of Yosemite Climbing,” of which Yvon was a major figure. His accomplishments include the first free ascent of Yosemite’s North America Wall in 1964 and the first ascents of Canada’s Mount Sir Donald’s North Face, Mount Edith Cavell’s North Face, and South Howser Tower’s Beckey-Chouinard Route in the early 1960s.
It was during this time that Chouinard introduced the revolutionary chrome-molybdenum steel pitons to the climbers of Shawangunk Ridge. Yvon found that his company’s steel pitons were ruining the cracks of Yosemite in the early ’70s, so he and his business partner Tom Frost committed themselves to “Clean climbing” by producing aluminum chockstones (Hexentrics and Stoppers) and steel Crack-n-Ups. After filing for bankruptcy in 1989, Chouinard Equipment, Ltd. was reborn as Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd. thanks to the efforts of a group of former employees.
Yvon liked wearing rugby shirts while climbing due to the collar’s protection from the climbing sling, which he purchased during a trip to Scotland in 1970. When his American climbing buddies wondered where they might buy the shirts, Chouinard Equipment, Ltd. stepped in to fill the void. Yvon launched the first Patagonia store, Great Pacific Iron Works, in 1973 in Ventura, California.
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Early offerings from Patagonia were the Stand-Up short, the Ultima Thule pack, and the Foamback raingear; the firm quickly expanded into pile coats and sportswear. Chouinard wanted Patagonia to be an excellent workplace, so in 1984 he instituted perks like a cafeteria with “Healthy, largely vegetarian food” and a daycare center for employees’ children. He made the decision in 1986 to give away 10% of corporate profits or 1% of sales (whichever was greater) to environmental groups.
A few years later, in 1996, Yvon realized the “Huge environmental burden” of the corporate cotton Patagonia was using and made the transition to using only organic cotton. Customers were unhappy with the organic cotton, leading to a 20% decline in sales for Patagonia. The business started educating farmers on organic farming practices, and within a few years, revenue was back where it had been.
Chouinard established the global nonprofit 1% for the Planet in 2002; Patagonia was the first company to donate one percent of annual sales to environmental organizations through this initiative. More than 5,000 people and businesses have signed on to support this organization’s mission to “Create, support, and mobilize an alliance of enterprises financially dedicated to producing a healthy world,” as stated on the group’s official website.
Yvon married Malinda Pennoyer, a student of both home economics and art at California State University, Fresno, in 1971. They have a daughter, Claire, and a son, Fletcher, and they currently divide their time between Ventura, California, and Wyoming. Chouinard has several interests outside of rock climbing, including surfing, fishing, kayaking, and writing.
Awards and Honors
Because of his “conscientious, humanistic business strategy” and “lifetime commitment to corporate social responsibility,” Yvon was awarded the Inamori Ethics Prize in 2013. In 2018, the Sierra Club honored him with the John Muir Award, and at the time, Sierra Club President Loren Blackford commented, “The way Patagonia runs its company is admirable. It serves as a model for companies of all sizes to emulate.” Bates College, located in Lewiston, Maine, presented Yvon with an honorary degree in 2021.