To say Patagonia is a different kind of apparel company would be an understatement. To say Patagonia is an altogether different breed of business enterprise would be more accurate.

Its design philosophy calls for garments to be long lasting, strong, comfortable and beautiful. Doesn't sound too different from the norm for a leading active wear firm, right? But the philosophy also contains this clause, which is what differentiates Patagonia from the pack: "Environmental harm from manufacturing or growing practices, from dyes and finishes, should be as minimal as we know how to make them."

Patagonia doesn't just give lip service to its quest to preserve the environment. Take its dramatic 1996 adoption of organic cotton, which the company's research showed to be a much more environmentally friendly alternative to conventionally grown cotton. In a move that almost ruined the company financially at the time, Patagonia converted its sportswear line to 100 percent organic cotton. To this day, its commitment to using only organic cotton in its sportswear has not been compromised.

And the decision ultimately proved to be the right thing to do from a business perspective. Patagonia's direct-to-consumer and wholesale revenue have grown to a healthy $240 million, and the firm's employment has reached 1,200 worldwide.

The Ventura, CA-based firm, privately held by founder and mountain climbing enthusiast Yvon Chouinard and his wife Melinda, charges itself an "earth tax" annually. It donates 1 percent of its sales (or approximately $2.4 million a year) to grass roots environmental organizations. The earth tax model was the basis for the formation of the 1% for the Planet organization, an alliance of businesses that follow Patagonia's lead in donating 1 percent of their net sales toward grass roots environmental efforts.

CEO Michael Crooke, who joined Patagonia in 1999 from Pearl Izumi, describes Patagonia as a product-driven company ("the only way to compete in the market is to have the best product") that strives to make the least impact on the environment in making its product ("because we are manufacturers, we are polluters").

He says the firm is lucky to be able to attract world-class talent throughout its organization. He said Patagonia is focused on hiring managers who are not just focused on one aspect of the apparel business but also on the firm's overall philosophy, which involves consideration of long-term implications of business decisions and practices.

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