When PPAI Media broke the story that Patagonia was back in the co-branded embroidery business after a two-year hiatus, it was indeed an noteworthy development for interested distributors.

A week later, some promo pros hoping to do business with Patagonia were left with as many questions as answers.

Fielding confusion and a bit of skepticism from some distributors, PPAI Media reached out to Patagonia for clarity over what industry pros should realistically expect when trying to meet clients’ needs through Patagonia.

Distributor Confusion  

Rhonda Mock, a digital sales coordinator at The Vernon Company, already had a customer who she “couldn’t talk out” of wanting Patagonia products.  

Eventually, Mock agreed to investigate the possibility. The next day, her inbox received the breaking PPAI Newslink notice that the retailer would again open itself to embroidered secondary logos.

“I’m like, ‘it’s perfect timing,’” Mock says.

So, she put forth an application for a small order. Forty-eight hours later, Mock’s submission was denied. Since at least 2019, Patagonia has, according to its catalogue, required “disclosure as to the type of company whose name will appear on the Patagonia product and how the product will be used.” Interested distributors have needed to submit their client’s information prior to project approval. That added layer of complication has led many to seek high-quality outerwear solutions from elsewhere among promo suppliers.

Mock says she was given no reason for the denial, and therefore had no idea how to correct the order or if there was any criterion that needed to be met. The application had not even asked to see the logo that would be embroidered.

Later, Mock revisited her application and changed the client website from its international affiliate to its American website, and the application was accepted soon after.

“My thinking is, could they at least tell us why they’re disallowing [an order],” Mock says. “That way we can possibly go back and adjust it.”

The Patagonia POV

Patagonia’s perspective is that promo still falls squarely behind the retail and e-commerce divisions in the company’s priorities. According to corporate and team sales manager Shaun Willhite, Patagonia is only beginning to transition its capabilities to accept large quantity orders for branded embroidery through its Worn Wear program, which sells previously owned items.

Willhite admits the renewed efforts are only in their earliest stages, and there is much work to be done before Patagonia can meet the full demands of the industry while remaining in line with its own sustainability mission.

PPAI Media spoke to Willhite in hopes of unlocking more clarity into its renewed embroidery program, which will limit secondary logos to placement off of the front of a garment, such as below the neck or on the sleeve.

PPAI Media: To begin, what changed in the thinking at Patagonia to make the company decide two years ago that it was time to get away from co-branded embroidery?

Willhite: We’re an outdoor retail brand first and foremost. It’s a very small division of the company that grew, at one point, a little faster than we than we wanted it to. We’re not trying to grow this like a full-blown sales division. We’re just not trying to do that. We recognize that there’s a need for uniforms out there, and promotional items, and we’re trying to service that in the most responsible way. 

When we hit pause on it a couple years ago, we were just seeing way too much of our stuff kind of getting slotted into a closet or somewhere else and not used. And that wasn’t coinciding with our mission. So, we paused. And we’ve actually built a really nice business of undecorated gear in this industry since then. I know there are some comments out there about ‘we left the industry,’ but we never did. We’ve been selling into the industry with zipper pulls that are removable – you can take it off this jacket, put it on another one, and wear that for the day, or take it off for the weekend. And we like that a lot.

PPAI Media: And what has changed to open Patagonia to embroidery again?

Willhite: We’re unlocking some resources within our Worn Wear team to be able to take back these logoed items now. We haven’t ironed that out completely. That’s why we haven’t come out with our own big press release. We’re still working on that. So, we’re just doing this on a very limited basis. But we kind of wanted to say, hey, let’s start with a limited quantity of orders every month and see where it goes.

PPAI Media: So, if there is limited availability, how do you decide which orders it goes to?

Willhite: We don’t really get specific with that. It’s based on quantity – how much inventory do we have this month or this week, even. Like I said, we’re sort of a side business within our main business. So, it really comes down to the quantity of orders – what do we have capacity for?

PPAI Media: But at the same time, you do also evaluate the client? 

Willhite: Yeah, I mean we definitely look at the clients. Of course we want to have the best possible fit. That’s why we kind of got real vocal about, hey, 1% for the Planet members, B Corporations, Fair Trade – those types of things really fit nicely with our brand, and that’s where a lot of our focus was at one point.

But that’s not always the case.

PPAI Media: As for the Worn Wear program that embroidered products are going to be sourced through, is there a quality classification system – “good as new,” or any sort of specifications for what shape the products are in?

Willhite: That’s what we’re trying to define and make really clear. We’re still working on that. That’s why we’re only taking a really limited quantity of orders.

You know, you can only remove embroidery on some fabrics. So some of those, when you can remove the embroidery, we’re going to be really clear that this was a refurbished product. It used to have a logo on it. So. we’ll either put a patch over where the logo was or repair that panel. But it’ll be sold as a repair, not as a new piece.

And we have a market for that at Patagonia. There are some people in this world that will only buy used stuff. They won’t buy something new, and it’s a really large number of people. So we think that with this division there’s an opportunity to get these things out of people’s closets, or if they’ve changed jobs to just take a logo off and put another logo on.

PPAI Media: Is the inventory at a place where you can support orders in the hundreds of items for the time being? The tens? The ones? What is the current capacity? 

Willhite: Yeah, honestly it’s difficult to say. We work really closely with our inventory team. An order will come in, and we’ll say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this demand, what can we do?’ And if demand is really strong in our retail division, we’re not going to be able to fulfill the order. Or in our [e-commerce] division. But if something is falling behind and there’s a stack of inventory, then yeah, we can fill an order absolutely. 

We’re distributing to the promotional products industry through Driving Impressions (PPAI 355347, S4). It’s just this order-by-order basis. Check in with Driving Impressions. They’ll check with us. If we’ve got the inventory, we’ll move forward.