Patagonia, Inc. is an American retailer of designer outdoor apparel. With stores in over ten countries and sixteen factories, this stylish sports brand is taking the outdoor retail industry by storm.
The company was founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard, an accomplished rock climber, and has since gone from strength to strength. It began life as an offshoot of Chouinard Equipment, hence the focus on outdoor clothing rather than everyday fashion.
The thing I find impressive about the company is that, despite positioning itself as a purveyor of outdoor clothing, Patagonia’s memorable logo has become almost like a status symbol over the past decade. I regularly see people from a young age demographic – think millennials and generation Z – wearing Patagonia clothing on nights out and to other social events.
The outdoor clothing market is predicted to grow by $3.9 billion from 2019 to 2024, which is excellent news for Patagonia. However, the global pandemic destabilized the market, with particular pursuits becoming more commonplace – like hiking – and others being made impossible by travel restrictions.
In addition to competition from emerging outdoor clothing brands that people can set up relatively quickly and cheaply, this is a significant hurdle Patagonia has had to overcome.
This guide lets you learn more about Patagonia’s strengths and weaknesses and its major competitors.
Bottom Line Up Front
Patagonia competes for a market share in the multi-billion dollar outdoor apparel industry against other heavy-hitting brands like Canada Goose. The company has made waves for its ethical, activist approach, but a lack of authenticity due to partial greenwashing has left Patagonia trailing behind The North Face.
List of Patagonia’s Main Competitors
- Canada Goose
- The North Face
- Columbia Sportswear
- Jack Wolfskin
Patagonia Business Strategy
Patagonia operates a business model which focuses on manufacturing and selling outdoor clothing of the highest quality. Since the company positions itself as an ethical and environmentally conscious brand, there is a strong focus on sustainability throughout the product lifecycle.
As such, durability is also a key component of Patagonia’s business objectives to reduce waste and excessive consumption.
Part of Patagonia’s value proposition – and undoubtedly the reason it has become such a famous brand with millennials – is the feeling that customers have contributed to protecting the environment by making a purchase.
This production revenue model has been highly successful for Patagonia. In a market oversaturated by fast fashion, the company has managed to promote its products as ethical and thus charge a higher price.
Patagonia achieves over $1 billion in sales yearly, so premium pricing hasn’t put consumers off.
Some commentators even claim the company aims to “reject consumerism” – in my opinion, that’s taking the idea a little too far. Still, it does prove that a company’s ethics can significantly impact sales.
Evidently, despite having higher costs due to its supply chain’s solid environmental protection standards and the use of higher quality materials, Patagonia has achieved as much, if not more, than some of its biggest competitors.
The company’s impressive growth can be attributed at least partially to its willingness to adapt and diversify. In 2012, Patagonia added food to its line of offerings using the brand Patagonia Provisions.
Further, in 2017, Patagonia announced that customers could return merchandise in good condition for new merchandise credits. In many ways, this is a revolutionary step forward, and I believe we will see many apparel companies following suit in the coming years.
While it’s easy to be taken in by Patagonia’s apparent activism, when you look closer, all is not as it seems. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights filed a criminal complaint in a Dutch court in 2021, alleging that Patagonia, amongst other brands, benefitted from forced Uyghur labor in the People’s Republic of China.
Similarly, The Atlantic published a 2015 expose revealing Patagonia’s involvement in human trafficking in its supply chain. I’m confident I’m not the only person who is disappointed to find another brand guilty of appearing to be more ethical than it is.
Patagonia Competitors Analysis
Below you can find an analysis of Patagonia’s main competitors in the outdoor clothing industry.
Canada Goose was founded almost sixty years ago in a small warehouse in Toronto, Canada. Initially, the company was called Metro Sportswear Ltd.
It has become one of the world’s biggest luxury apparel manufacturers, marketing a range of parkas, jackets, hats, vests, shells, gloves, and many more products.
Like Patagonia, Canada Goose benefits from a production revenue model, selling its clothes wholesale and direct to the customer.
As of April 2022, the company operates through 41 retail stores in North America, Asia, and Europe and 56 national e-commerce markets.
Canada Goose’s reputation is equally as strong as Patagonia’s, with both brands proving to be highly trendy. However, I’d suggest the two diverge in their identities; Canada Goose plays into the idea of luxury, whereas Patagonia focuses on sustainability.
Both companies share similar revenues, with Canada Goose making just over $1 billion in 2022.
Believe it or not, the similarities don’t stop there – the Canadian firm has been embroiled in controversies like its Californian counterpart.
Not only has Canada Goose come under fire for its ongoing use of real animal fur – prompting the brand to go fur-free by the end of 2022 – but also for its allegedly discriminatory return policies in China.
Thus, Canada Goose’s ethical downfalls could be causing certain consumers to turn to Patagonia as an alternative, a problem the company will need to address going forward to compete with other brands successfully.
The North Face
The North Face is an American company that produces outdoor recreation products like clothing and equipment. It was founded in 1968 and has headquarters in Alameda, California.
Whereas Canada Goose focuses on the luxury market, and Patagonia targets ethically-minded consumers, The North Face aims for practicality, creating products that help people push the limits of what’s possible outdoors.
Initially, the reputation of The North Face was built on providing equipment and apparel for expeditions, but this soon changed with the introduction of the company’s “store within a store” concept, which allowed the company to sell high-tech products in upscale shops.
There were around 600 Summit Stores located in other retail stores in 2006. Today, The North Face has over 200 stores worldwide, with annual revenue of $2.3 billion as far back as 2016, putting it ahead of the other outdoor apparel brands I have discussed.
In recent years, The North Face implemented a comprehensive strategic reset of its brand, strategy, and purpose. In doing so, the company managed to secure its position as the number one outdoor brand globally.
Part of the reason for The North Face’s success compared to other outdoor brands is its laser-sharp focus on authenticity rather than flashy gimmicks.
Moreover, the company continuously evolves its strategy to meet the demands of today while thinking ahead to what will come tomorrow.
For example, The North Face recently unveiled a new global retail strategy, transforming stores into part base camp and part archive to create a stronger connection with consumers. This will make a tangible difference to the shopping experience, perpetuating the brand’s desire for authenticity and practicality.
Columbia Sportwear is an American company that manufactures, markets, and distributes outdoor apparel.
Despite being founded in 1938 as a hat store, these humble beginnings didn’t stop Columbia from becoming a global leader in the outerwear industry. Today, Columbia Sportswear sells footwear, accessories, equipment, outerwear, and sportswear.
The company is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, has just under 10,000 employees, and operates primarily in four regions: the USA, Canada, EMEA, and LAAP. North America has over 129 Columbia Sportswear retail outlet stores, 13 branded retail stores, and four e-commerce websites.
Like Patagonia, Columbia emphasizes its corporate responsibility by highlighting the durability of its clothes and the ethical practices implemented to create and distribute them. However, unlike Patagonia, this messaging is subtle and, thus, more appealing to your average consumer.
According to recent financial reports, Columbia Sportswear’s current revenue is $3.12 billion, up from $2.5 billion in 2020.
Over the past five years, the company has focused on delivering an omnichannel shopping experience through SMS and mobile commerce. Given that the vast majority of people today own a smartphone and will spend multiple hours on it, this is a smart business move.
Considering the broader picture, Columbia Sportswear is going from strength to strength. In the second quarter of 2021, its shares increased 16.6% compared with growth of just 6% for the industry.
The customer base of Patagonia is significantly smaller than that of Columbia Sportswear, but the latter company inspires less brand loyalty. Nevertheless, quantity rules over quality regarding revenue, as Columbia makes markedly more in a year.
Founded in 1981 – later than many rival brands in this industry – Jack Wolfskin is a German company specializing in outdoor apparel and equipment, including sleeping bags, rucksacks, footwear, outerwear, and tents.
Like Patagonia, one of Jack Wolfskin’s strengths is that the brand has managed to extend the appeal of its products (primarily clothing) beyond its initial target audience. It is a trendy brand both on and off the trail.
As you’ll have noticed by now, a common theme in the apparel industry at large, but specifically the outdoor apparel market, is that of corporate responsibility. Since 2010, Jack Wolfskin has been a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, which aims to improve working conditions in the textile industry.
In 2022, the company unveiled a reset strategy with a renewed focus on its outdoor roots. The fall/winter clothing line that Jack Wolfskin announced alongside this promised to provide technological and sustainable innovations.
Richard Collier, the company’s CEO, also introduced a roadmap for the global expansion of the brand throughout Europe, the USA, China, and Russia.
Jack Wolfskin is attaching more importance to digital business, which will require expanding the existing omnichannel model to achieve the company’s goals. Attaining a more substantial presence in digital channels appears to be a common goal of many outdoor apparel companies.
In 2019, Jack Wolfskin made $356 million in sales, which is considerably lower than that of its competitors, but it’s essential to bear in mind the bigger picture.
I mean that, at the beginning of 2019, Calloway Golf Co. – a much bigger business – acquired Jack Wolfskin. In total, Calloway earned $1.7 billion in sales that same year, giving Jack Wolfskin the opportunity for significant growth due to its connection to a larger company.
Patagonia SWOT Analysis
You can find a SWOT analysis of Patagonia below, demonstrating the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
- Strong ethical brand identity focusing on sustainability which matches the interests of the company’s target demographic
- A recognizable logo that carries social value
- Loyal customers return to the brand because they perceive its outdoor clothing to be more than just functional
- Private ownership allows the company to change strategic direction rapidly compared to a public company
- Strong philosophy of “buy less, buy quality”
- Small but dedicated workforce
- Big reseller community that boosts the brand’s reputation for being trendy and desirable
- Struggling to increase e-commerce sales; lags behind most competitors in the online marketplace
- Reliant on suppliers, which often results in supply chain problems
- Low market presence results in customers going elsewhere due to a lack of stores to visit
- Over political – the company takes a strong moral and political stance on various issues, which can be highly polarizing
- Heavily dependent on the US market
- Poor financial planning leaves the company vulnerable to unexpected economic pressures
- Primarily offers expensive products
- Expand globally, reaching new markets and taking advantage of different trends within them
- Consolidate e-commerce presence, which could significantly boost revenue
- Diversify product offering, branching into new types of apparel for other activities
- Invest in new technologies that could bring the brand to more people
- The company is reasonably financially stable, so it can quickly expand
- Impending recessions in many countries post-pandemic
- Pandemic recovery may be slow; the company had to close many stores during Covid-19
- Highly competitive sector
- Declining retail sales, especially in the US, where Patagonia conducts most of its business
- Counterfeit products
- Companies with more affordable products pose a serious threat, especially in the current economic climate
Patagonia Competitors Analysis FAQs
Question: Which is the best outdoor clothing company?
Answer: Regarding revenue and global reach, The North Face is the clear winner. With more than $2.3 billion in annual revenue, it is one of the world’s most successful outdoor apparel brands. I attribute this to the company’s focus on practicality, quality, and affordability.
Furthermore, The North Face implements more aggressive – and thus successful – marketing strategies.
I think Patagonia has been more successful in positioning itself as a trendy brand for millennials, but much of its brand personality feels lacking in substance.
Question: Is Canada Goose better than Patagonia?
Answer: These two companies are evenly matched in a lot of ways:
Both have been involved in controversies.
Both produce trendy and desirable products.
They have a similar market share.
However, Patagonia’s clothing is of a higher quality than that of Canada Goose. It is also more affordable, with the latter company positioning itself more firmly in the luxury sector.
Question: What makes Patagonia different from other firms?
Answer: Patagonia has successfully made its clothing lines appealing to a wide range of people, regardless of whether they participate in outdoor activities. The logo itself is seen as trendy and desirable by young people, and it is instantly recognizable.
You could argue the same goes for Canada Goose or The North Face, and I would agree. Still, Patagonia has created this reputation while portraying itself as an ethical, activist brand, which doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with being “trendy.” That’s what makes Patagonia different.
While Patagonia is an instantly recognizable brand, the company faces fierce competition within the outdoor apparel industry. It hasn’t yet managed to secure its position as the market leader.
To overtake rivals like The North Face, Patagonia needs to strengthen its e-commerce capabilities and expand into new global markets. It’s clear that Patagonia products are both high quality and sustainable, so there is no reason an expansion wouldn’t be successful.