A little less than a year ago, I wrote about how Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, a billionaire, declared “I’m an avowed socialist. I’m proud of it. That was a dirty word just a few years ago until Bernie Sanders brought it up” and how, in an interview with Fast Company magazine, insisted that Venezuela does not count as a socialist country. Chouinard’s face stared out from the cover of the magazine with the eye-catching headline: “CAPITALISM IS DEAD. LONG LIVE CAPITALISM.”
What I did not know until today is that Patagonia — an “unapologetically political” company — is also a longtime contractor to the U.S. Department of Defense. In May 2018, SoldierSystems.net, which covers the industry of tactical gear, noted, “Patagonia has a dedicated team, focused on supporting USSOCOM with delivering US Made/Berry Compliant technical cold weather and combat uniforms as prime provider to the Protective Combat Uniform program.”
Even those familiar with Patagonia’s PCU work usually don’t know how long they have been supporting the military. My relationship with the brand goes back to the late 1980s, when I was assigned to 3rd ID’s Long Range Surveillance Detachment. We were issued thick dark blue pile suits to ward off the cold while in a hide site and polypropylene long underwear, complete with logo on the left chest. Not long after that, very close copies of those garments were included in the US Army’s Extended Cold Weather Clothing System. Right down to the nylon chest pocket.
Throughout the 90s, SOF units would issue specialized pieces of Patagonia clothing for use in extreme environments. But it was not until the Global War On Terror that Patagonia answered the nation’s call and began developing entire clothing systems for SOF.
In July, in an article about apparel companies that have contracts with police agencies, GQ’s Sam Reiss noted:
Lost Arrow, Patagonia’s tactical clothing arm, is even more closely held. The clothes — overalls, some soft-shell jackets, a neck gaiter, all army green or grey — only appear on one webstore, Tactical Distributors, without Lost Arrow branding, marked as PATAGONIA TACTICAL *GOV’T SALES ONLY*. (Other tactical webstores, like us-elitegear and botach, each have Lost Arrow sections but don’t sell the brand). The only Lost Arrow mention in Patagonia’s corporate literature is a short one — ”Lost Arrow, Inc. dba Lost Arrow Project (government)” — on the Patagonia Works FAQ page.
Most people will have no problem with Patagonia developing and selling high-quality extreme weather gear for the U.S. military. Many companies would probably endlessly boast that their clothing is good enough for the world’s toughest soldiers, working in the world’s toughest conditions, but Patagonia is pretty quiet about that. Then again, some of Patagonia’s more stridently liberal customers, who see the U.S. military as an inherently imperialistic or destructive force, might not see the company’s military contracts as a sin that they can excuse or forgive.
How many companies are headed by self-described socialist billionaires who specifically include the support of liberal and progressive causes as part of their mission, but that also have military contracts?