Welcome to episode seven of the Fairware Changemaker Series, where we highlight entrepreneurs and thought leaders that continuously inspire us through their passion for using business to better the world.
This week we’re featuring Liz Johnson, Store Manager at Patagonia Vancouver. In this episode we get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes at the Temple of Stoke, where passion and community engagement come together to inspire and implement solutions.
How and when did you get involved with Patagonia Vancouver?
I read Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing a snapshot of the company history and what we consider to be our unofficial employee handbook about 10 years ago. I was really inspired by how he was able to marry business with activism. At the time I was a recent biology grad and wanted to change the world, but didn’t really want to work in the scientific field. I had always kept my eye on Patagonia as an example of someone who was doing it right, and when I found out they were opening a store in Vancouver, I had to throw my name in the hat. And I got it. So here I am!
People in Vancouver call this store the Temple of Stoke. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
When we were opening the store, it was such a gift to be able to build a team around what I wanted the store to be. When we were opening and training, we didn’t even have a proper store yet – it was just a construction site. We were doing vision setting exercises around what we envisioned our customer experience to be, so we closed our eyes and walked around the store: imagining what it would look like, who would greet you, and how we would want people to feel when they came in here. The goal was to imagine a place where people could come to get an injection of positive energy, whether to learn something, have something repaired, or even just to talk about a recent trip. A place where people could make a pilgrimage to come for the stoke – so that’s how it became the Temple of Stoke. It has a great ring to it, and has become a lens through which we filter all our ideas for events, social media, and the way we hire people!
What community programs or initiatives are you really excited about?
A part of Patagonia’s mission statement is using business as a tool to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. We’re able to do that through supporting non-profit groups, and since we opened 4 years ago we’ve been able to give over $100,000 USD to BC-based environmental non-profits. We’ve also maintained relationships with these groups and supported them in all kinds of ways.
A Patagonia-wide initiative event we have coming up is called Blue Heart ,which is a story about getting rid of unnecessary dams that are blocking viable fish spawning and waterways in Europe. It is such a great story that has a strong environmental thread, and acts as an example of what we call localism – taking a story that is specific to one area but is still relevant to places all over the world.
Can you tell us more about My Sea to Sky and how you got involved?
My Sea to Sky is a non-profit based in Squamish, and their main mission is to oppose the wood fibre LRG proposed terminal in Howe Sound. I think I can say I championed our relationship with My Sea to Sky on a personal level, because I spent a lot of time boating, swimming, and actually living on a boat in Howe Sound for quite some time. I’m hyperaware of the impacts of having tankers running through that narrow waterway, especially after having seen the return of the heron, salmon, and orca populations to the Howe Sound area. We’ve supported this initiative over the years through grants and chatting with customers about the work My Sea to Sky is doing.
What inspires you to come to work every day?
This is the Temple of Stoke, so you’re surrounded by people who are champions for Patagonia and committed to seeing this place succeed. Every person contributes to the positive vibes in here, and it’s always fun. Every day we’re folding t-shirts, but it’s with a greater purpose, so it’s easy.
How many staff work at Patagonia Vancouver?
Patagonia Vancouver is located right in the heart of Kitsilano on W. 4th Ave, a few blocks from the beach. We can see the snow capped mountains on most days, like our own in-house snow report. I have 18 people on the team right now, 5 of whom have been here since we opened the store 4 years ago.
What does being a Changemaker mean to you?
Being a Changemaker means using the skills and passion that you have to work towards something bigger than your day-to-day. What I love to do is connect people, and use products to create purpose. So when I hire people, I find out what lights them up and then endeavour to connect them with ways to use their skills and passion. This is how we generate results and stay excited to come to work every day.
Liz has an amazing energy about her which is amplified through the store as well as her staff. Over the years, she has created an outdoor community that is just as passionate about adventure as they are about making our community a better place. When you walk into Patagonia Vancouver, you’ll no doubt be intrigued by the product – but the purpose and impact behind the purchase also permeates way past the walls of the Temple of Stoke to better our communities. We hope you enjoyed this episode, and we look forward to sharing our next one in the weeks to come.