Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

From Esquire

Last weekend, a photo started making the rounds on Twitter. It was a simple shot, a closeup of a clothing tag being pushed up by the tip of a finger to reveal the underside. Behind it, the peaks of the mountains on Patagonia’s instantly recognizable logo were visible. In the foreground, on the flip size of the part of the tag that presumably noted the sizing, a four-word message: “Vote the assholes out.”

The Tweet has now been liked more than 55,000 times, and sparked a wave of questions and coverage. Is the tag real? Sure is! Who are the assholes? Politicians, of any party, who deny the reality of climate change and the science behind it, and refuse to take action to fight an increasingly pressing crisis. Honestly, it’s all been a nice time, one of those brief, beautiful moments on the internet where a whole lot of people get to delight in something at the same time. Plus, there’s swearing!

But I still had questions. How exactly did that tag make its way onto a batch of Patagonia’s “Road to Regenerative” shorts? How long was it out in the wild before it was discovered? Who gave the go-ahead? So I called up Corley Kenna, the Ventura, California-based brand’s director of global communications and public relations, to talk about clothing tags, assholes at the very top of the ballot, still more assholes down-ballot, and what we can all do to get them all out of office this November. A condensed and edited version of our conversation is below.

How did the tags come to be? And when the shorts actually hit the market? Were they out there for a while and people just didn’t notice it?

This was the work of our very smart and creative design team. This was not a two-years-ago marketing strategy. And I don’t know exactly when the shorts would have arrived in Reno, which is where our distribution center is. But when we found out about them—when I found out about them, and a couple of my other colleagues in Ventura—I was like, “Let’s see who finds them, and let the world find it on its own.” I will say, when our founder found out about them, Yvon Chouinard, his response was, “These are great. I need them in a size 32.” But it’s been really fun to watch people discover the tag. That is the first question that just about everybody has asked, “Is this real?” And yeah, they’re very real. Unfortunately, we’re already sold out of them. We haven’t made a decision yet on if we’re making more. At least if we are, I haven’t heard that decision.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

I wanted to ask you if there was any hesitation about the specific use of the word “assholes,” but if you only found out once the design team had done it, I suppose you wouldn’t actually know how that conversation went.

Well, so here’s the thing though: The saying, “Vote the assholes out,” we’ve been saying that at Patagonia for a few years. You can find some examples of T-shirts that we never sold, but that were made that say, “Vote the assholes out.” I think you can find them on eBay or something like that now. But also our founder wrote a letter to the 1% For The Planet community, which is the organization that he helped found, and is a very big part of the relationship that we have to our products—when you buy our product, 1 percent of sales goes to this organization. We use that to fund thousands of grassroots environmental organizations.

He wrote a letter to that group earlier this year. And he really spelled out in a postscript of the note, “Remember, vote the assholes out.” All those politicians who don’t believe we should do anything about climate change. Our design team, they heard it two years ago, and when he said that, we made those shirts. And then of course, when it was reinforced—it was spelled out in his letter—it gave them the permission to insert it on the tag. [laughs]

These are political artifacts, in a way. Depending on whether or not the company makes more, I’d venture to guess that every single pair of these shorts is going to be considered a collector’s item. So, I’m curious to know how you feel about having put something like that into the canon alongside the “I Like Ike” buttons of the world.

Wow. Well, I would love to think that these might end up in the American History Smithsonian Museum one day, alongside an “I Like Ike” button. For sure, that would be amazing. I don’t think we’ve thought that far into this, but I think it also reinforces one of our core values, which is that we actually, all the products that we make, we want to change the relationship that people have with their clothes, and create this real culture of ownership. “Hold on to these.”

So, hopefully everyone’s Patagonia is considered that way. And we have a whole program around repairing things. We don’t want you to just toss out that jacket because the zipper’s broken. We’ll fix it for you. We want these clothes to tell stories, and collect stories, and we want to people to share those stories. And so yeah, hopefully, this is seen in that way to that narrative. But hopefully we don’t have to keep making a tags like this, because hopefully this November, we will elect some real climate leaders and fewer assholes, and can do something about what’s going on with one of the crises facing our country and our world.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Has this spawned a response? Are people reaching out? Visiting the site and stores more? Engaging on social media?

It’s definitely spawned response. From my chair leading the communications team at Patagonia, we’ve had outreach from most major media outlets, your traditional print publications, but also online outlets and television. That’s driving traffic to our website for sure, which is good. Because I think the message that we’re sharing here is that we’re overdue on addressing the climate crisis. And we’re overdue on addressing the climate crisis not because the majority of Americans don’t think it’s real. The majority of Americans do think the climate crisis is real, and they do think we should be doing something about it. And it’s our elected leaders that are failing us here. And so, when we say, “Vote the assholes out,” that’s who we’re referring to, is politicians from both parties who deny that climate change is real.

And so, what’s good about the spike in traffic to our website is, when you go to our website, you can learn all sorts of things about these issues. Right now, when you go to the homepage of our site, it features a trailer for our film that will be released next week, Public Trust, which is all about the threats facing our public lands and waters. But there’s also space on our site encouraging people to make a plan to vote. So, to do something about these politicians that are denying the climate crisis, that are not listening to the science, the scientists, and really just lots of resources for people to take action and learn more.

And you’ve got a pretty cool interactive map of Senate races to watch. I know that you folks have been very mindful of noting that this is a both parties thing. It’s not specifically addressed to Trump, or the Trump administration. But when you think about prime offenders, who are the people—the assholes—that shouldn’t be in a position to make decisions about our policies on climate change?”

We focus on the Senate, the U.S. Senate, because Mitch McConnell and several dozen other Senators are holding up action on climate policies. And so, the November elections are an opportunity for voters to change that. I don’t have the exact number, but the House has passed a lot of legislation that would offer climate policies to address what’s going on. And that legislation is just dying in the Senate. And so, we wanted to focus our attention on those 35 Senate races, and not all of them, I don’t think we have all 35 on this map, but we identified where there was the most opportunity for change, and have highlighted a number of candidates across the country that we hope voters will consider, so that our future of our planet, we can be a little bit more hopeful about. Because right now it’s truly threatened.

What about people who can’t vote in those Senate races?

For anyone who comes to our website wanting to learn more and to engage on these issues, the first place I would direct people to actually is Action Works, which is our platform that connects our community to the environmental nonprofits that we support. And there’s a host of environmental issues you can choose to engage in. There’s groups across the country.

I think what we see for this November, though, is just an opportunity to elect more leaders that will fight for climate policies and fight for wild places. And of course, that’s not just limited to the Senate. There’s the top of the ticket, the presidential, obviously, all the way down to local races. And we really want people to take the time to study their ballot, and to vote all the way down ballot. I mean, county commissioners play an outsized role on a lot of issues—especially out west, on land protection. And we have resources on our site for people to learn more about what to expect on the ballot, so that they can learn more about the candidates and ballot measures. And it’s really important to do so.

Photo credit: Alex Wong - Getty Images
Photo credit: Alex Wong – Getty Images

I would also say that we’re focused on simply making democracy more accessible. That’s a really big part of our election strategy this year. And we were doing that a variety of ways. We’re co-founders of a movement called Time to Vote, which as of this week, actually, has over 1,000 companies in it. That’s really exciting, because that means millions of Americans won’t have to choose between earning a paycheck and voting. The other thing that we’re committed to doing this year is supporting Power to the Polls, which is this really great effort to recruit poll workers. We’re facing a real poll worker shortage.

And we’re really committed to sharing out localized, up-to-date information that’s reliable. There’s so much misinformation about how to vote this year, and it’s hard to figure out what’s right. In some states you have to have a picture of your ID submitted with your ballot. Who has access to a photocopier right now? So we’re going to provide that. Texas is one of the States that requires that, so our stores in Texas will have a photocopier. If you want to come by, we’ll copy your ID so you can include that with your ballot. We’ll be sharing out information about, if you want to vote in person early, what those dates are, when you can do that. Stuff like that, just really trying to make democracy more accessible for people.

Sewing a mildly profane tag on the inside of a pair of shorts might seem like a strange way to realize the lofty goal of making democracy more accessible—especially when the company opts not to market that message. But Patagonia has a preternatural knack for this stuff. Consider, for instance, the past success of initiatives like the “Don’t buy this jacket” campaign, which in 2011 raised awareness about environmental issues and (perhaps counterintuitively) boosted sales for the very jacket featured in the audacious New York Times full-page ad that had everyone talking about the brand. Then consider all the attention the “Vote the assholes out” tag got when it was discovered. How many people started talking again? How many, hopefully, started thinking about the role they could play in giving “the assholes” the boot?

And finally, consider this: You’re still reading. That means you’ve taken in paragraph after paragraph of information about climate change, activism, and what you can do to get involved and start working towards political and social change. Still wondering why they sewed that tag in those shorts?

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