Three Brand Lessons from Patagonia's Founder

Share Article

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s memoirs entitled “Let My People Go Surfing” have long been regarded as a valuable resource for brand development inspiration. At the same time, this is not your usual how-to-book and is somewhat difficult to extract any concrete lessons from.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s memoirs entitled “Let My People Go Surfing” have long been regarded as a valuable resource for brand development inspiration. At the same time, this is not your usual how-to-book and is somewhat difficult to extract any concrete lessons from.

Originally published in 2006, Chouinard’s book is an odd mix of genres: First person narrative, corporate manual, spiritual advice and social and environmental statement all rolled into one. It’s actually plain confusing, and that’s what’s really ingenious about it.

Let my people go surfing was republished in 2016, revised and with a new introduction. In the following, I will share some of the tastiest insides on brand identity to be had from this odd business manual.

Son of a french canadian blacksmith: Tell your tale and don’t be afraid

The +200 million dollar B company Patagonia begun with a son of a French Canadian blacksmith sewing his own clothes suitable for handling falcons. The vision of a company offering better and more sustainable gear slowly emerged. How did your brand begin?

See, we all got a story. I like to believe that behind every single business, whether you sell outdoor clothing on a global scale or own a small hardware store in San Diego, there is a story and a vision behind it.

Maybe you think that your own start up wasn’t as exotic as the French Canadian falconeering teen, but the good news is that no matter your story, it has a narrative quality to it. Or at least it can be given one, and that’s guaranteed!

Not only do you have a story, people want to hear it: Humans more or less operate through narratives, so no matter whether your story simply is that you inherited your hardware store from your dad and that’s that, It’s a story that people want to hear. It makes your business human and relatable, and that’s what branding is all about.

”The more you know, the less you need.” – deconstruct yourself

What is your core product or service, and why are you better at providing it than everyone else? Let My People Go Surfing gives you an open invitation to get back to basics; to discover what it really is that your brand is all about.

This is much more than just assessing your brands key values. It’s the art of daring to deconstruct your self, and it’s a continuing exercise.

We need to dare ask some of those really tough questions: How can I get my intention into action better, even if it means abandoning my current strategies? And is where I am going now actually where I want to be heading?

Reading Chouinard’s memoirs, it becomes obvious that Patagonia was never something like a concept or coherent idea. Rather, it was a yearlong uncompromising struggle to create something better and implement some personal values into practice.

Patagonia was a trail and error exercise, but it worked, because it was always honest. It had a nerve that consumers could feel.

Patagonia was never about selling. In fact, one of their most iconic commercials encourages the reader NOT to buy their shirt. Patagonia manifests something that should be the penultimate goal of every brand, namely to sell itself. To create a product that is so strong that your costumers feel they need you.

Never get to the point where you are able to separate your brand from your own love and ambition. Dream. Develop. Improvise. And don’t be afraid!

Go surfing – abandoning rigid conceptualisation

So why is it that Patagonia’s founder’s odd, inverted tale of business success should find its way to your bookshelf? What to do with this rather incoherent, first person narrative of the Patagonia journey?

Well, life is not like a corporate management book. It doesn’t have bullet points, or top three lessons, or summaries at the end of each chapter. Life is random fractions and bits pierced together in the weirdest fashion and against all odds. Life doesn’t come with a manual.

Your business is a living entity, with real people, real resources, and real costumers. It is not an idea, much less a brand. So tell me now: Would you rather rely on business advise that is like a book – neatly divided into sections, chapters and bullit point, or on advise that is narrative, and which corresponds to how we interpret all facets of our life? It shouldn’t take you too long to make that choice.

The golden lesson from Let My People Go Surfing is to view your business venture as a living entity; not as numbers and keywords on a blackboard. In life like activities that lie outside language, you make continuous choices and readjustments to the conditions.

Think about going surfing: When you get up on that surfboard, do you stick to what some manual has told you about surfing, or do you move in any which way that will keep you standing? And if prognosis says now is the perfect time to go surfing, but there is a storm raging and the beach is full of sharks, do you still go?

Chouinards memoir tells us to stop planning and start living, and that’s great.

Wrapping up: No easy solutions

The best advice doesn’t come in few sentences. Life is just not that simple. The reason that Chouinard’s haphazard tale of the Patagonia journey is valuable inspiration is exactly that it doesn’t simplify things. It never become superficial or preachy.

Granted, if you are looking for a ready to go brand strategy, this book won’t be of much value to you, but there is much more to brand success than strategy and development.

This is why Let My People go Surfing deserves a place on your bookshelf. Let it’s inspiring narrative be that little voice in the distant that encourages you to always think above and beyond, and to stay close to that dream you had when you first started your business.

Enjoy your read.

Enjoy your reading at

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Thomas Larsen

+45 42504509
Email >
Visit website