Ten years after its original release, a revised and expanded edition of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s 2006 memoir, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, is now available with more than 40 percent new material and a new foreword by activist and author Naomi Klein.
“Let My People Go Surfing” is the calling card and portrait of a young misfit who discovered his life’s work on Yosemite’s big walls and the swells of Southern California in the 1960s and ’70s as an equipment innovator who changed climbing forever, and as an entrepreneur who brought doing good to the heart of business.
Founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973, Patagonia is a certified B-Corporation recognized globally for its commitment to undisputed authentic product quality and environmental activism, contributing more than $78 million in grants and in-kind donations to date. In many ways it has expanded to be much much more than an apparel company, investing in sustainable food (Patagonia Provisions), and establishing the $20 Million and Change fund to help like-minded emerging businesses.
When he was a child, Chouinard moved with his French-speaking family from a declining mill town in Maine to fast-urbanizing Southern California, where he still lives in Ventura, California, where Patagonia is based.
In the new edition of “Let My People Go Surfing,” Chouinard explains how his business and environmental views have evolved in a decade marked by global recession and intensifying environmental crisis — as well as unprecedented success for his company, bringing great opportunities as well as challenges for Patagonia along the way.
Much like Skip Yowell’s 2007 “Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder, Chouinard’s “Let My People Go Surfing” is a blueprint for creating all facets of responsible business, from design and production to marketing and human resources.
In Chouinard’s view, in making business decisions that will lead to long-term success, Patagonia, and other responsible businesses, must account not only for the bottom line, but also the right thing to do.
And more than just attempting to cause less harm, Chouinard writes about a new vision of agriculture as part of the solution through regenerative practices designed to reduce carbon in the atmosphere and restore the soil that gives our planet life.
Patagonia has begun investing heavily in regenerative agriculture, both to support practitioners on the cutting edge of this movement and to source food and natural fibers in ways that actually begin to reverse the damage humans have caused to the planet. Chouinard writes, “All the work we do at Patagonia to be a more responsible company is for naught unless we can be part of the solution to this problem.”
That philosophy has become embedded in the company’s business model in the past decade – leading to plant-based wetsuits, a startup food business, innovative standards to improve the lives of workers in Patagonia’s global supply chain, and a venture fund designed to support like-minded young companies, among many other initiatives. They are also famed for asking their customers (in a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal) to “buy less,” an industry first that flew in the face of traditional capitalism, especially in an apparel industry known to be the second-largest polluter and user of water in the world.
Since the 2006 “manual” was first published, Patagonia has continued to grow and now approaches $1 billion in sales annually, born from Patagonia’s original mission to: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
In a rewritten chapter on environmental philosophy, Chouinard expresses deep concerns about the planet’s health in the face of climate change and other threats to the natural world. In response to these new threats, he has added a new element to his philosophy for responsible business: Do Good.
Naomi Klein writes in the new foreword, “This is the story of an attempt to do more than change a single corporation – it is an attempt to challenge the culture of consumption that is at the heart of the global ecological crisis.”