Patagonia Takes Its Shot At ‘Cheap Crap’

The Shitthropocene covers a lot of ground. The rise of fashion 17th century France. Advertising and what it does to the brain. The challenges with modern-day supply chains. But at its core, it’s a film about the cycle of production and consumption, and how that impacts the Earth.

The new Patagonia-produced movie (which dropped on April 29) focuses primarily on clothing, which reportedly accounts for up to 10 percent of today’s carbon emissions. Though the film doesn’t directly reference surfing, it's easy to make the connection between the industry's manufacturing cycle and the average surfer’s experience. Brands want to sell goods and services, and surfing is a vehicle to promote those goods and services. It’s become second nature to replace a wetsuit after one cold winter. It’s easy to want that new board that will finally unlock the full potential of your cutback. And lord knows how many Wavestorms have been tossed in the trash.

The Shitthropocene is a 45-minute film directed by David Byars that combines satire, playfulness and honest storytelling to explore humanity’s consumption habits. Here’s a very basic premise: The human brain is hardwired to do things to survive. In our caveman days, we hunted and made tools. From an evolutionary standpoint, the consumption of resources leads to an increased likelihood of survival. Now, thanks to industrialization and the internet, it’s never been easier to consume more than we need. And a lot of that stuff is cheap, requires energy input (carbon), and often ends up in a landfill. A vicious cycle.

Patagonia's "<em>The Shitthropocene"</em> uses satiric dramatizations, like a caveman going on a shopping spree, to drive home the point of what modern advertising does to our ancient brains. Framegrab: Patagonia
Patagonia's "The Shitthropocene" uses satiric dramatizations, like a caveman going on a shopping spree, to drive home the point of what modern advertising does to our ancient brains. Framegrab: Patagonia

“Our enormous capacity to consume it is no longer a cervical advance when you think about the planetary consequences,” said Dr. Ann-Christine Duhaime, a pediatric neurosurgeon specializing in climate change and health. She is currently exploring how the brain’s amazing capacity for flexibility might enable us to prioritize the long-term survival of humanity, according to her bio.

The film’s messaging is on-brand for Patagonia, which has always preached quality over quantity and a “less is more” ethos since Yvon Chouinard began forging pitons in Ventura. This being a Patagonia-made film, we hear from company staff and department heads who acknowledge the fine line they walk by attempting to minimize their impact on the planet by growing a $3 billion company in a capitalist economy.

“There’s a sunk cost to the planet for every product that we make,” said Matt Dwyer, the head of Product Impact and Innovation at Patagonia. “Our job is to live in the tension of trying to save our home planet by virtue of making and selling stuff.”

The movie also shows insight into how the company deals with various issues in its supply chain. From the relatively small challenge of defective waders and a much bigger problem like how in 2019 the company found out that its highest quality organic cotton supplier in China was housing workers in “internment camps” and violating human rights.

“If we have challenges tracing our relatively small, pretty well-mapped supply chain, imagine what a company 50 times our size is going to go through as they start to learn what their global supply chain footprint looks like,” Dwyer said.

The long story short is that the folks at Patagonia see product quality as an environmental issue. By spending more dollars on extending the longevity of sweaters, shirts, pants and raincoats, they want to reduce the likelihood that your gear ends up deteriorating into the ground.

You can watch The Shitthropocene here. It will also be screened in Patagonia stores throughout the U.S. Find details here.


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