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$0.5 Dumpster Diver Goes a Billion Dollar
What we can learn from Yvon Chouinard.
Yvon Chouinard, born in 1938—Lisbon, Maine. Little did he know the future awaiting. Growing up in a French-Canadian community, with poor English, he saw no other fate than working the mill just like his father.
His environment however was about to change. Eight-year-old Yvon moves to Burbank, California. A new home that poses cultural change, language barriers, and ultimately solitude for years to come. At school misunderstood, he would spend most of his time alone, wandering outdoors. His interest at high school was no different. That is, until he discovered a local falconry club.
“Surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don't see it in yourself.” - Steve Jobs
An encounter that meant a radical shift for Yvon. Looking backwards, I believe we can connect the dots and realise their significance overtime.
At this point he made friends, training hawks and falcons. One of them a mountain climber, Yvon got obsessed by rappelling down on cliffs to falcon aeries. During these days, bare feet, a pair of sneakers would do the trick. Until he noticed someone climbing on the sandstone cliffs of Stoney Point, and wanted more.
So at age sixteen, Yvon travels for Teton Range, and convinces some climbers to join their ascend at Symmetry Spire. Without prior experience, he went ahead managing “Pitons”: Metal spikes that climbers drove into rocks to support their ropes. It doesn’t take long before he makes this sport his priority, drops out of college. His mind was set on something bigger, a desire for solid climbing gear.
Back then, Europe was supplying single-use pitons that stained the white canvas mountains once conquered1. Yvon wanted no trace behind. Thus arose the dumpster diver, determined to forge a reusable piton, stronger, more functional than ever. A belief that would prove an inspiration for founding a billion-dollar company.
“A belief that would prove an inspiration for founding a billion-dollar company.”
At this time the country knew a mere hundred climbers. Yet, when Yvon launches his product from the back of his car, the word is spreading fast. A self-made blacksmith, barely meeting demand, offering a premium of $1.15 far above the European rate2.
With meagre profits, Yvon lives on 50 cents a day, continues to climb. His belief stretches further, redesigning every climbing tool on the market under Chouinard Equipment Ltd..
“I immediately take a step forward and see how it feels. If it feels good, I will take another step forward and if it feels bad I will take a step back.” - Yvon Chouinard
By taking one step, another might present. It is by execution that we find resolution, or relief in the sense that you no longer have to drag “hypothetical scenarios” around. Clearly it played out well for Yvon Chouinard. He does not identify with his past. Therefore, he jumps more willingly into the unknown, confident that he will learn by doing. And so Patagonia reaches the horizon upon his visit to Scotland in 1970.
The year he acquired a colourful rugby shirt in a window display, made with tough material, a collar. Yvon answered his intuition and demand would follow at home. Soon Patagonia, after the rugged mountains in Argentina was born, along his first clothing line for climbers. Even so, like unpredictable high-altitude weather, Yvon was on the verge of turmoil… (Not to mention the impending lawsuits against Chouinard Equipment Ltd., and a stirring recession looming for 1990.)
While supply was in dire need of stock, Yvon contracts a Hong Kong supplier that will push the company’s boundaries terms of quality, shipment, cashflow.
The company hardly survives thanks to a loan from friends and appoints a new general manager, “Kristine Tompkins”3—a rebel at heart, who similarly learns the ropes by doing, steering the company to better grounds.
This is where Yvon doubles down on designing multifunctional clothing, R&D, and a series of disruptive innovations. In 2008, Patagonia is one of the few that remains profitable during the crisis—cited as a “model of the future”, prioritising social and environmental returns over rapid growth.
“Every time I have made a decision that is best for the planet, I have made money.” - Yvon Chouinard
Today a status symbol for the world's most powerful companies, as it exceeds a billion dollars in sales since 2019. I think Yvon Chouinard’s story, the Patagonia brand illustrates the hazardous path to self-realisation. Working on a passion so dearly, that you keep climbing no matter the mountain, obstacle for a belief worth sharing.
“The secret to happiness is to be working at your passion. If you want to be miserable, lead a desperate life like everybody else where they drag their asses to work every day because they hate their job.” - Yvon Chouinard
Let me know if this resonated with you. Among other things, Hunch will expand with film on Youtube 🎬. Stay tuned for more impactful content 🔥 and try applying these keys to self-realisation. For I believe they can manifest our dreams.
As we step into 2023, some consider new beginnings, as should you. It is no exception to one day see yourself transforming.
Watch out for rich stories ✌️x per month on Saturdays as you take that morning sip ☕️.
Commonwealth Club of California 2016, Yvon Chouinard: Founding Patagonia & Living Simply (Full Program), accessed 3 January 2023, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQlu95rzUTM/>.
Hook 2021, How a Dumpster Diver Created a $1 Billion Empire with His Last $0.50, accessed 4 January 2023, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzWai-fwTNc/>.
Tompkins, K 2007, Leadership, Patagonia-style: Changing the Criteria for Success, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, accessed 4 January 2023, <https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/leadership-patagonia-style-changing-the-criteria-for-success/>.