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The winner of this year’s FT Investment in Brand Award at The Drum Awards for Marketing is ethical clothing company Patagonia, recognized by the judges for its “commitment and belief in the importance of climate as well as profit”.

The award, which celebrates companies for their commitment to pursuing long-term marketing strategies, focused on businesses that have taken that long-term approach to sustainability and maintaining their green credentials. The judges said Patagonia has been the poster brand for sustainability for many years, making it a fundamental part of every decision the business takes, and agreed that “there could not be a more worthy winner”.

David Buttle, The FT’s global director for policy and commercial marketing, spoke to Nina Hadjikhanian, Patagonia’s e-commerce director, EMEA, about the company’s approach to brand purpose, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and the link between campaigning and commerce.

“Our founder, Yvon Chouinard, was a big-wall climber,” Hadjikhanian explained. “He developed a strong sense of responsibility for creating less harm in whatever he was doing, whether it was during the sport or in the production of the pitons he produced. For us, as a company, it is an inherent part of our DNA that we’re conscious of every step we take on the journey in running our business, and it’s part of what we do in finding solutions for the inherent problems of the apparel industry.”

The company is continually looking at its supply chain, from growing the cotton all the way to getting products onto the shelf. It’s looking at solutions like regenerative organic agriculture, Fairtrade, and collaborating with other businesses and suppliers to find better practices. It also open sources the solutions it finds.

The other thing that Patagonia has done for a long time is support grassroots activists.

“We give them a bigger platform and create reach for them,” Hadjikhanian said. “We’ve given away over $145m in cash and in-kind donations to 1500 groups around the world so far. But eventually creating less harm has become doing more good, due to the crisis and the urgency of the crisis that we’re in so, over time, you could say we’ve become a more activist company, compared to just supporting activists.”

According to Hadjikanian, Patagonia has had to adapt to the pandemic, just like every other company. One of the biggest problems for a business so keen on meeting its community has been the disappearance of real-world events.

“The work we do sometimes is quite simple,” she said. “It’s about storytelling and bringing the things that we do closer to the community. So, for example, the event that we ran two years ago in Chamonix called Running Up For Air, which is a trail running event, we’re now doing across the whole of Europe via a digital platform. Internally, we’ve learned a lot about how we can collaborate across the regions; it has connected us much more with our regional offices, as well as with the headquarters and we have brought some flexibility to our staff as well.”

Running Up For Air is a great example of Patagonia’s approach. The whole event is intended to increase awareness of air pollution, and to raise money for environmental groups fighting for clean air. But, as Hadjikanian explains, the company never uses commercial gain as a metric in its environmental campaigns.

“We are in business to inspire others to find solutions for the environmental crisis,” she said. “That’s one of our key objectives as a company.”

To watch the full conversation between David and Nina, click here. Details of all the rest of the award winners can be found here.