Patagonia: A Global Vision of Sustainability with a Local Impact (A Conversation with Beth Sullivan)

by Jackie Bussjaeger, University of Montana graduate student
Patagonia Outlet
Patagonia Dillon Outlet

Beth Sullivan sits in the corner at Maverick Mountain ski lodge in Polaris, mending a puffy down jacket with a threaded needle. Outside, young downhillers competing in the annual local ski race barrel down the snowy hill. Once in a while, a skier approaches Sullivan with a torn sleeve or ripped seam in their gear. She is the manager of the Patagonia outlet located in downtown Dillon, and, as part of the company’s Worn Wear initiative, is happy to make repairs. “It’s part of our sustainable practices to try and prolong the life of a garment,” Sullivan says. “It surprises us that folks will come and say, ‘Can you sew this button on?’ I think it’s a lost art.”

Patagonia is a global company specializing in environmentally friendly clothing and outdoor gear, and the Dillon location is one of only five Patagonia Outlet stores in the US. “We give 1% of our profit back to the planet,” she said. “It’s way more than just selling clothes.” In Dillon, the store gives about $48,000 a year to local grassroots organizations through its grant program. The company emphasizes sustainable practices such as Worn Wear, 100% organic cotton, and Fair Trade, and more than 80 percent of the materials used to make Patagonia products are preferred materials.

Beth Sullivan
Beth Sullivan

Thirty years ago, Beth Sullivan left the Patagonia store she had launched in Maine to open the company’s Outlet in Dillon. Now in 2020, she realizes that back then, she never imagined this southwest Montana town would become what she loves to call home. A long-time booster for her adopted home, Beth is proud of the role everyone at the Patagonia store has played in bolstering the area’s economy. “We bring folks into town, and we would love them to stay and explore,” she said. “The Patagonia brand is strong, and when people who are familiar with it are in the vicinity, they make a point to stop at the Outlet. We want to cast our net a bit further and get the general travelers off of I-15 to come into town and see all of our unique shops and support our local businesses.”

As Sullivan pointed out, the region is rich with accessible public lands. Anglers flock to the Clark Canyon Reservoir and the Big Hole and Beaverhead rivers – both designated as Blue Ribbon Trout Streams. The surrounding area is also popular with cyclists, hunters, hikers, geologists, and skiers.”

For the last six years, home for the store has been the refurbished brick building that reads “Dillon Cash Grocery” in lettering over the entrance. Preserving this small part of the town’s history is just one of many ways Patagonia helps sustain the legacy of Dillon.

Patagonia staff are encouraged to contribute to the community through activism hours. They participate in a variety of beneficial activities, such as monitoring sage grouse through the Adopt a Lek program and modifying ranchland fences to enable the safe passage of pronghorn. They also participate in a “drive less” program that pays employees $4 a day if they walk or bike to work rather than drive. “There are just so many perks in working for a company that’s truly seeking a life/family/work balance,” Sullivan said.

In addition to supporting its employees, the store holds many events that benefit the wider community. This year, the Outlet hosted 34 public events such as film screenings and educational presentations.

Bill, a local attending the Maverick Mountain races, stopped by the Worn Wear booth and added his own two cents about the value of having Patagonia in Dillon.

“It differentiates it from being another cow town,” he said. “It’s not all about consumerism. Patagonia has invested in Dillon itself.”