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Book Review: ‘Some Stories’ by Yvon Chouinard

"From there it was the start of a climbing life that took Chouinard to the top echelon of big wall and alpine rock climbing"

Yvon Chouinard doesn’t think much of venture capitalists. At best, they turbo-charge businesses that damage the planet; at worst, they fund growth models that hit a brick wall without yet more capital. Sustainable models—business or otherwise—are the only ones he subscribes to. “Actions speak for themselves” is the Franco-Canadian ethos he was born into, and one he’s adhered to his entire climbing and business life.

Some Stories collects his writings from the days he joined a high school falconing club in California in the fifties. It was there that he learned to rappel and gained environmental awareness (of the impact DDT had on birds).

From there it was the start of a climbing life that took Chouinard to the top echelon of big wall and alpine rock climbing, with first ascents of the North America Wall, the Muir, the North Face of Edith Cavell, and, as an acolyte of Fred Beckey their eponymous route on South Howser Spire (perhaps the most sought after alpine rock climb in North America). Some Stories is at its best when capturing this era in photographic and written form.

In Chouinard’s words, it took him twenty years to come to terms with the notion that he was, in fact, a consummate businessman. The smithy that he established in Ventura, CA to make chromoly pitons laid the basis for the emergence of Black Diamond Equipment.

The import of rugby shirts from Scotland (to eliminate neck chaffing from the heavy gear slings that climbers wore in those days) led to the creation of Patagonia. What’s lacking in business case study detail is made up for in a series of richly photographed accounts of Chouinard’s adventures while at helm of the most successful company in outdoor soft goods.

At this point in his life, Chouinard is seeking diversity of experience and his commitments to environmental causes come to the fore. The two men who had spent a week tent-bound in the Bugaboos each follow their callings: Beckey becomes the patron Saint of dirtbagging, while Chouinard becomes a master marketer and manager of people.

In many ways, Patagonia became the first values-based business to achieve widespread consumer recognition. Many have taken this path since; and, hopefully, many more will.

Visit here to buy Some Stories. In 1957, Yvon Chouinard founded Chouinard Equipment for Alpinists. He then started the outdoor clothing maker Patagonia in 1973. Chouinard learned early in his life as an alpinist, surfer, and fly fisherman the seriousness of the environmental crisis—and he made this the focus of his company.