What work do you do?
I’m founder and president of prAna.
What does your business do?
prAna’s core business is men’s and women’s lifestyle apparel and accessories. The brand — grown from deep roots in rock climbing and yoga — has always strived for positive change and is grounded in the ideas of sustainability, in terms of the materials we use and the energy consumed to produce the product.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
Thirteen years after founding the company, I continue to have input on the design of the men’s line as well as oversee the marketing. Ultimately, the guardianship of the brand and its messages — whether conveyed through our product or our communications — is my bailiwick.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
The road here may have been long but not necessarily all that winding. Back in the ’80s, I owned and ran a surf-gear company and have since helped launch and lead other projects in the action-sports industry. In the early ’90s, my personal interests were moving toward the outdoors and climbing specifically. It was only natural that my business interests would follow.
How many emails are currently in your inbox?
I am still very much the paper-and-pencil guy at prAna. I’ve never been too tied to computers and prefer the old-school hands-on approach. I try to spend less time behind my desk and more time out in the workplace and marketplace.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
Chicago. Currently my family lives a few miles from prAna in Southern California.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
At the risk of sounding self-serving, I would say prAna is my favorite ecosystem. As a business grows and becomes an entity, it is very rewarding to observe and influence the interplay between people and ideas. I think the “sustainability” platform under prAna only enhances that, since everyone in our business works hard to remain aware of the cause and effect of the things we do. From that spring ideas such as organic fabrications and our Natural Power Initiative, which displaces conventional energy used by our retailers with wind-generated power.
Who is your environmental nightmare?
It is difficult to admonish the person driving the Hummer or even the captains of big business collectively. I am very sensitive to the hypocrisy in that: I drive a car, I burn those fossil fuels, and I certainly buy products made at the expense of natural resources, although I do my best to remain conscious of it and am always looking for ways to reduce that consumption. But the guy tossing garbage out the car window is making absolutely no attempt.
What’s one thing the environmental movement is doing particularly well?
Increasing public awareness and debate of environmental issues. And improving the connection between idealism and the application of those ideals, including factoring environmental programs into the business models of companies.
What’s one thing the environmental movement is doing badly, and how could it be done better?
We need to highlight more models of excellence — those who are demonstrating authentic wisdom and helping lead us to more harmonious living with the earth. The key to branding is engaging people of differing levels of belief or conviction with propositions that are meaningful.
For the pragmatic environmentalist, what should be the focus — political action designed to change policy, or individual action designed to change lifestyle?
Cultural change. Politics is simply a reflection, warts and all, of the society that keeps it in place. If a groundswell of right thinking can turn into right action — and achieve a degree of popularity or even critical cultural mass — we have a tipping point. Then legislative improvements are sure to follow.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
Placing more comprehensive environmental education into public-school curricula nationwide.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Value success in increments. We would all like more good things to happen faster, but real progress is just that: progressive. I am proud that prAna as a whole has adopted a more process-oriented approach; it has been a steady march toward softening our impact on the environment.
On the prAna website, only a small minority of items are listed as organic. Is there a practical barrier to going all-organic with your cotton apparel? — Shawn Severance, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Many of our products are not cotton. Because our business is grounded in outdoor activities and yoga, technical attributes — like moisture management — are a must in many cases, and cotton is simply not suitable. This is why a lot of our garments are made from nylon, polyester, rayon, modal, hemp, etc. In addition, not all yarn sizes are available in organics from our current sources. As supply gets better, we certainly hope to grow our organic cotton collection. We’ve gone from 19 styles to 33 and are now at 44 styles with our current line.
Also, the truth is our customer is price-conscious and some organic-cotton constructions are cost-prohibitive. We stay very aware of the price thresholds that work for our brand and customer and are always looking for ways to add organics whenever we feel the market will accept the price point.
How much of your retailers’ conventional power do you displace? Do you need their participation to do that, or do you do it behind the scenes? — Katharine Wroth, Seattle, Wash.
To date, we have offset 100 percent of the conventional power used by 250 of our retailers. It’s a collaboration, really: Their participation is through their expressed interest and enrollment in the program. They go through the process of supplying us with their electrical energy usage, and we consolidate this information and purchase renewable-energy certificates on their behalf.
What could your company be doing better, in terms of sustainability? Any goals down the road? — Name not provided
We certainly need more organic cotton in our line. This means we will have to continue to push our vendors to get more creative with sustainable ideas. Alongside organics, we need to make more inroads with our wind-power initiative in order to offset the conventional energy used to make our goods. Lastly, we must continue to explore alternative fabric materials such as recycled polyesters, hemp, corn, soy, bamboo, etc.
As a small business, how much power do you feel you have to motivate others — customers, fellow business owners, marketers — to incorporate sustainability into their work? How do you go about doing that? — Name not provided
Dialogue, as a practice, has been central to prAna since the start. There is no better way to understand the motivation of others — and in turn motivate others — than by active listening and exchange. That is how we plan to spread the good word of Natural Power. It’s a discussion in which we demonstrate our interest and commitment to wind power and try to make it compelling by talking about the personal and business rewards that stem from such involvement. We have a lot of influence among employees, vendors, and customers, but we have always been understated with our opinions. We’d rather lead by example and say, “We’re not perfect, but we are doing what we can and that’s a good path to be on.”
What makes your company different from the other eco-clothing companies out there? — Brendon Smyth, Seattle, Wash.
First, technically speaking we don’t consider ourselves an eco-clothing company. prAna does what it can to be mindful and is interested in all kinds of social and environmental improvements. We work toward bettering our own practices and making contributions with every passing season.
That said, prAna is one of the few companies that markets to youth with a sustainable story. The fact that we influence a younger audience, and have not defined our brand too narrowly, will give us the opportunity to expand to other, more mainstream markets and share our eco-angle with a larger audience.
I read that prAna supports Windforce 12 — what’s the significance of this initiative? — Sarah van Schagen, Seattle, Wash.
Windforce 12 is a global industry blueprint coauthored by Greenpeace and the Global Wind Energy Council. It demonstrates that there are no technical, economic, or resource barriers to supplying 12 percent of the world’s electricity needs with wind power alone by 2020. By committing to wind as an endless energy source, we are helping to satisfy global energy demands and unlock a new era of economic growth. The wind industry is one of the world’s fastest-growing energy sectors and perhaps offers one of the best opportunities to begin the transition to a global economy based on sustainable energy.
What made you choose wind power, as opposed to other ways to offset emissions? — Name not provided
Because the sun doesn’t shine at night! Seriously though, it’s obvious that no single solution can meet our future energy needs. Having said that, wind is a clean, viable, and somewhat endless source of energy. It was a great first place to pay attention. Also, we like the way it benefits the local communities that host wind farms by creating new jobs. Sustainability really works when its benefits show up on local and global levels.
Where is prAna apparel manufactured? — Laura Cacho
Sixty-five percent in the U.S., 35 percent overseas, including India, Nepal, China, Thailand, Africa, Sri Lanka, and Portugal.
What books are you reading these days? — Patricia Ortega, Peachtree City, Ga.
Where do you like to climb? — Name not provided
I’ve climbed all over the U.S. and in 12 other countries around the world. I love it all, but my favorite is desert climbing. The deserts of Utah, Nevada, and California in spring and fall — the terrain, rock formations, colors, wildlife, smells, skies, and sandy washes. I feel very alive there!