SMALL BUSINESS

Patagonia's Founder Is America's Most Unlikely Business Guru

04/27/2012 11:11 am ET | Updated Jun 27, 2012

A couple of years ago, Yvon Chouinard--founder of the outdoor-clothing brand Patagonia--gave a talk at a sustainable-fisheries conference in Vancouver. He'd been invited to speak in recognition of Patagonia's longtime commitment to environmental issues and its reputation as a company that manages to churn out profit while minimizing ecological impact. Chouinard delivered his spiel, but he came away frustrated by the surprising ignorance of his audience. "They didn't know what they were doing," he says of the seafood merchants. "They had no idea about toxins, about incidental catch. Their customers are all going to want to know this stuff soon. Restaurants will want to know."

So, despite having zero background in the food business, Chouinard decided to launch his own salmon fishery. Patagonia Provisions, which debuted at the beginning of April, sells packets of salmon jerky ($12.50 for two ounces) next to rain jackets, hiking pants and organic cotton shirts. The salmon is caught in British Columbia's Skeena River, using traditional equipment that the company describes as "First Nations fish wheels and dip nets." Chouinard has so far poured $1.3 million into this curious experiment. He isn't sure when he'll make it back. "I can't help myself," he says. "I just want to show the fishing industry how it can be done."

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