June 7, 2023

  • Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has lived a frugal lifestyle since his early days as a climber and surfer.
  • This includes eating cat food and exchanging money for soda bottles from the trash.
  • Even now, Chouinard still wears old clothes and drives a battered Subaru, according to The New York Times.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard saves as much money as he can.

Despite starting a company that prides itself on prioritizing employee well-being and sustainability over profits, Chouinard grew up frugality and savings throughout his career as a professional rock climber.

Patagonia, which he founded in 1973, is now worth $3 billion. Earlier this month, Chouinard announced plans to transfer the outdoor clothing retailer to a trust and nonprofit.

Chouinard lived an unusual lifestyle in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, in part because the nature of living in the wilderness as a climber and in a beach hut as a surfer robbed him of modern comforts, Part of it was to save money, especially in the early days of Patagonia.

Here are some of his most outlandish budgeting tactics from his early years, as described in his 2005 autobiography, “Let My People Go Surf: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman.”

As a young adult, Chouinard had to adapt his life to the outdoors so he could get the best opportunities for rock climbing and surfing. For example, in 1957, Chouinard and his friends spent a month in a cabin on the beach in San Blas, Mexico, eating fish and tropical fruit, and waxing their surfboards with candles from a local church, he wrote.

In the late 1950s, he also earned gas money by “sneaking into trash cans and exchanging soda bottles.”

“At one point, I found an entire freezer full of partially frozen meat,” he added.

Before founding Patagonia, Chouinard made a living selling climbing equipment from the back seat of his car.

“However, margins are slim,” he wrote. “For weeks on end, I lived on 50 cents to a dollar a day.”

One year, he and a friend bought boxes of broken canned cat food in San Francisco and took them to the Rocky Mountains for the summer, with a diet that included oatmeal, potatoes, ground squirrels, blue grouse and the Porcupines use ice axes, he said.

It’s not just food that he saves. When traveling with his friends in the late 1950s, he said, “we were always getting sick from bad water and couldn’t afford medicine.”

He said they would take charcoal from the campfire, mix it with half a cup of salt in a glass of water, and drink the mixture so they would vomit. He claims that over time he has developed a natural “immunity” to poor quality water

Even as the business grew, Chouinard continued to minimize personal and business costs.

In 1966, Chouinard established the base of his equipment business, Chouinard Equipment, in a rented tin boiler room in an abandoned packing company slaughterhouse in California. He wrote that the company’s first retail store was in an “ugly tin shed” decked out in old wood.

Chouinard also had some unorthodox living arrangements.

“I slept two hundred days or more a year in my old military surplus sleeping bag,” he wrote. “I bought a tent in my late forties and would rather sleep under boulders and the low-hanging branches of alpine firs.”

In the early 1970s, he and his wife lived in a beach cabin for half a year, spending the summer months in the back of an old van, until his wife converted the basement below their retail store into a makeshift apartment.

Even now, Chouinard still wears old clothes, drives a battered Subaru, and owns two modest homes in California and Wyoming, according to The New York Times. He didn’t even have a computer or cell phone, according to the publication.

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