Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia's
founder, started climbing in 1953 and began making pitons in 1957 after going to a junkyard and buying a used coal-fired forge, an anvil, some tongs and hammers, and teaching himself the art of blacksmithing. By 1970, Chouinard Equipment had become the largest supplier of climbing hardware in the USA. It had also become an environmental villain because its pegs were damaging the rock. After an ascent of the degraded Nose route on El Capitan, which had been pristine a few summers earlier, it was decided to phase out of the piton business. Fortunately, there was an alternative: aluminium chocks that could be wedged by hand rather than hammered in and out of cracks. They were introduced in the first Chouinard Equipment catalogue in 1972. Chouinard Equipment later became Black Diamond.
The clothing business started small with a few rugby shirts imported from the UK. The name Patagonia was chosen as it was decided the range should not be exclusively for climbers and Patagonia was pretty much unknown territory for everyone in those days. Fleece clothing (then used by fishermen) soon followed and then new materials such as polyester for base layers began to be used. During the '80s bright colours were introduced into a world previously dominated by greens, browns and blues.
In the late '80s Patagonia started using recycled material to make some of its clothing, a process that has accelerated in recent years, and also decided to donate 1% of its sales to ecological good causes, which has done ever since, most notably by buying up vast swathes of wild land in South America and then donating them back to the country concerned as national parks.
Patagonia make brilliant outdoor clothing and equipment but there are some other very good reasons to support them as a company which are partly why Needle Sports has such a major stockist of their range for so long.