LOS ANGELES — High-end outdoor clothier and gear maker Patagonia is out to prove that a company can generate strong sales while being nearly fanatical about environmental concerns.
The California company was the first major clothier to make fleece jackets out of recycled bottles. Nearly a third of the power for its headquarters and adjoining child-care center comes from solar energy. And it donates 1 percent of its sales to environmental causes.
Patagonia is a privately held company, so its finances are not public, but it says it's riding a growth curve. It opened 14 stores last year, bringing to 88 its wholly owned retail outlets worldwide. Executives said the company had $540 million in sales in the 12 months that ended in April, an increase of more than 30 percent over the same period a year earlier.
Furthermore, they said, Patagonia has doubled revenue and tripled profit since 2008.
But is it fair to say that the environmental dedication of the company is a key to its claimed success? Patagonia executives say yes.
Chief executive Casey Sheahan said customers were willing to pay $25 for a T-shirt and $180 for a light jacket because they knew Patagonia inflicted less damage on the environment than other clothing makers did.
He said other companies are catching on.
"I think a lot of big companies are doing things like this because it's a better way of doing business," he said.
Analysts, though, said Patagonia's eco-friendly philosophy was probably only one factor in the company's ability to grow.
More important, said Richard Jaffe, a retail and apparel analyst with investment firm Stifel Nicolaus & Co., is that Patagonia has a reputation for making products a cut above much of the competition.
Patagonia also might benefit from an overall increase in sales in outdoor goods across the country.
The company previously concentrated on rugged clothing and gear for hiking and rock climbing. But about eight years ago, it introduced a line of surf-inspired clothing and beach products, including surfboards, that have proved popular.
Even Patagonia's founder and sole owner, Yvon Chouinard, 73, said the company was not likely to keep up its current growth pace.
No matter how the business fares, Chouinard wants the commitment to the environment to continue.
On Jan. 3, Chouinard became the first head of a company in California to file "benefit corporation" papers.
Traditionally, for-profit companies are required to serve the interests of shareholders above all. But a law passed by the state legislature last year created the category of "benefit corporation" to allow such companies to adopt policies that "create a material positive impact on society and the environment." The law took effect this year.
Chouinard said he made the move so if Patagonia becomes a public company after he and his wife die, it could continue to donate to environmental causes without fear of being sued by shareholders.