With less than 50 days until the election, Patagonia is making its political position clear with the fashion equivalent of an Easter egg. If you’ve happened to buy a pair of men’s shorts from the brand, you might discover that the underside of the garment tag says, “VOTE THE ASSHOLES OUT.”
Over the past week, customers have been posting images of these tags on social media, which have gone viral. At first, it was unclear whether they were real. It seemed a bit improbable: Why would the brand be so surreptitious about the tag? Was it approved by executives at the top, or did it somehow get snuck into the sewing room?
Patagonia tags have a new message. pic.twitter.com/0azyAVmOuh
— Michael Li 李之樸 (@mcpli) September 10, 2020
Those questions evaporated when Brad Wieners, Patagonia’s head of copy, confirmed the existence of the tag on Twitter. Corley Kenna, a Patagonia spokesperson, told CNN that the tags currently appear on a single item: the Regenerative Organic Stand Up Shorts. Kenna said Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder and CEO, has been using the phrase for the last few years to refer to “politicians from any party who deny or disregard the climate crisis.” And they picked this particular garment because the company first brought it to market in 1973, which is about as long as the company has been standing up to climate deniers, Kenna said. For now, the company doesn’t plan to expand the tag to other products, although the shorts sold out online on Wednesday, so that could change.
In many ways, the tag is a brilliant marketing strategy precisely because it doesn’t have any of the trappings of a traditional marketing campaign. It comes across as a kind of inside joke, or a secret message between the company and its customers. Many Patagonia customers on Twitter were delighted, saying the tags deepened their loyalty.
While the tags were a surprise, Patagonia’s commitment to activism is not. The company has been vocal in its resistance to the sitting president, particularly when it comes to his environmental policies. In 2017, Patagonia sued the Trump administration for trying to reduce two public monuments—the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante parks—by nearly 2 million acres. On its website, it took a combative tone, saying, “The president stole your land, and you were lied to.” Patagonia’s politics haven’t harmed the brand; in fact, GQ found that the company’s sales went up after the lawsuit.
Now Patagonia is working to encourage people to vote, and, more specifically, to vote climate deniers out of office. On Twitter, Wieners says the company is partnering with Ballot Ready, an organization that educates people about issues on the ballot, to help “folks follow through on [the] advice.”