Though you may recognize Patagonia for the clothes, the catalog, or the overall strength of the brand, Books Director Karla Olson says the company has always had a rich storytelling tradition. Founder Yvon Chouinard climbed six months out of the year and came back with his own stories for the company to publish. Karla thinks his 2006 memoir, Let My People Go Surfing, convinced the company that there are some stories that can’t be told in a 750-word essay in the catalog. Patagonia officially started publishing books in 2007.
When did you join Patagonia Books? How does it fit into the rest of the company?
I joined the company in 2012. The company had already published 12 books and they knew that it was a good way of communicating with our community and beyond. I often say that the books can go where the clothes can’t go, into bookstores. The books are a good branding tool as well, although we are very careful not to over-communicate our brand. I think we actually end up taking out mentions of Patagonia. We just let the story be the thing that convinces the reader that this is an issue they need to care about, or we let it entertain them in some way.
The goal of the publishing program is to educate people, inspire people, and encourage people to become involved with outdoor places and public lands. We’ve published 50 books, and if you look at them through that lens, they might look really disparate in the beginning, but you start to see that connection.
What is the goal of this book? What are we trying to get someone to do by reading this book? That is a direct action. They’re going to care about the river system. They’re going to go outside and climb outside on public lands so that they are involved in the fight for public lands. They’re going to learn how to be more effective at environmental activism. They’re going to be encouraged to start a business that has social responsibility involved. Those are all goals that we articulate at the beginning of a project.[Read more…] about Karla Olson: We measure community impact before book sales