I don’t know the last time that I hand wrote a letter, but I felt compelled to do so. Most people don’t really know the impact that they’ve had in other people’s lives, or the world for that matter. You and my father were fundamental to the creation of my company.
My father was head of Neuro and Cardiac Learning for the University of Texas, where he was a scientist and taught within the medical school. In addition, he taught Japanese and Chinese art history, opera, and music theory. I once had a Nobel laureate tell me, “Your dad forgets more than I know every night he goes to sleep.” Growing up, the conversations at the dinner table were always based on academics and the arts. All too often, when scientists joined, it was clear that there were some very troubling trends in relation to how people were being affected by toxic chemicals. The disconnect between what was being discussed and the general population always frustrated me. There had to be a way to disseminate information that compelled people to change behavior—to provide alternatives without pushing them into fear.
After a stint in the business world, I went to work for one of the scientists who was running a lab funded by NIH on toxic chemicals (specifically endocrine disruptors). We tried to get major companies to move off of chemicals like BPA. At that time, I helped write the Whole Foods chemical policy on BPA. With the pushback that I was receiving from big industry, I decided to launch Thinkbaby and Thinksport. We were the first 100% BPA free baby bottle line and the first 100% BPA free insulated sports bottle line. We basically target consumer products that are toxic and develop safe alternatives. In our use of the Precautionary Principle, we also became the first company to make a sunscreen to pass Whole Foods Premium Care requirements.
In the process of creating Thinkbaby and Thinksport, I took a little time to reflect on what kind of company I wanted to build. The answer was really quite simple, which became the question that I ask myself often: “What would Patagonia do?” Stay focused on the mission. My thought was if we kept that focus, we might build a meaningful company, whose existence brings positive change to the industry—like Patagonia. If you search our past press releases, you’ll almost always find us referencing Patagonia as the greatest model on how to build something great—a place where the mission is so infused into the culture, it’s hard to pull them apart.
In following your leadership in social responsibility, we built our own non-profit arm called Thinksocial. Every year, we produce a list of the top 20 non-profits aligned with our mission and let our followers (thinkers) select four to become our donation partners for the year. Our work to make sustainable and safe products also led us to be selected as one of the top B Corporations. This is all, in no short order, due to the road you have paved. I’m certain you have received other similar letters from founders. But I wanted to a moment to say thank you. Thank you for building sustainable products. Thank you for everything that Patagonia has done for the planet. Thank you for creating a model for us all to follow.
Annually, I jump into a car with one of my Chief Thinkers that heads our footprint in natural markets, and we travel the West Coast. We have accumulated quite a few photos in front of “The Shed”. One year, we were invited to hang out during the viewing of Waterman, which was quite entertaining. They showed an excerpt of you sharing your bout in Mexican jails, which still makes me laugh today.
Whether I’m speaking to MBA programs or at conferences of consumer product companies, there is and will always be discussion on sustainability and doing the right thing for people and the planet. This is what you have taught us. And we will continue to take on those that seek to do harm to either. It’s for sure getting better. But, we have a lot of work to do.
Kevin Brodwick, Chief Thinker
(Pictured Kevin Brodwick and Trey Vilcoq at "The Shed" the genesis of Patagonia in Ventura, California)