How Patagonia learnt to paint a more accurate picture of its community

An image of climber Lor Sabourin standing in the mountains, wearing a bright yellow t-shirt and a rainbow-hued sweatband
Lor Sabourin: Arizona-based climber, guide and coach who identifies as trans

While Patagonia is universally renowned for its purpose-driven business, it also has blind spots, according to its ecommerce director, who shares how the brand is working to make itself more inclusive.

At Patagonia, we have a reputation for being in business to save our home planet, gained through 40 years of direct action and supporting environmental grassroots groups around the world.

But we also have blind spots.

The murder of George Floyd and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement caused us to acknowledge that there is a lot more we can do to ensure that the stories we share are as diverse as our community.

Today, and every day, we commit to being an anti-racist company that leads by example.

And this means being more intentional about the stories we choose to tell – and the people who are empowered to tell them.

The result? Not only do we feel better about the way we are communicating but we are having new, important conversations with our communities. And, importantly, our communications have become richer for it.

A prime example of this is our most recent documentary They/them, which follows Lor Sabourin, an Arizona-based climber, guide and coach who identifies as trans, and uses the pronouns – they/them. 

For Sabourin, climbing is more than a sport, it’s a way of exploring identity and building resilience in the face of adversity.

The film shows a journey to piece together one of the hardest and most inspiring routes of Sabourin’s life. By embracing the strength in vulnerability, Sabourin has found the space to thrive and build a climbing community that others like them can call home. 

"They/them" is one of many stories we continue to tell, in order to paint a more accurate picture of our community and to give a snapshot into the life experience of an individual, through the lens of sport. 

Sadly, it’s well documented and understood within the LGBT+ community that, while there are moves forward, inclusivity within the climbing, and the outdoor movement at large, there is still a long way to go.

Our ambition is to help expand the idea of what it means to be a climber and to foster a climbing community where all people are welcome, safe, and free to be their authentic selves.

The most exciting thing about bringing this story to a wide audience is that it is only the beginning.

We are committed to building awareness, both internally and externally, for example, on topics such as non-binary language and pronouns.

We are working with LGBT+ groups across Europe on this to sensitively navigate gendered language across a range of European languages and taking advice from these experts.

And, through these expert groups, we have shown public support for broader issues such as the (now sadly destroyed) Zan Bill, which would have, among other progressive moves, made homophobic and transphobic violence punishable as hate crimes in Italy.

For us, this film has been a catalyst within Patagonia for conversations we weren't having before.

It’s provided an opportunity to learn and grow and better support the transgender and LGBT+ communities.

For us, embarking on this journey, involving LGBT+ experts, groups, and individuals with lived experience, from within our own organisation, in the process, has been invaluable.

And I would advocate that all responsible organisations follow this same path – taking a deep and honest look at where you could be stronger and where you could have impact.

No matter what stage of the journey towards being an inclusive company you’re at, the conversations you have, and the stories you tell, will be all the better for it.

Nina Hajikhanian is ecommerce director at Patagonia EMEA

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free