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Meet the mysterious Patagonia heirs who agreed to give away their billion-dollar fortune

September 17, 2022, 3:40 PM UTC
Yvon Chouinard patagonia founder
Yvon Chouinard is passing his company onto the environment, rather than his children.
Fabian Marelli—GDA via AP Images

In the TV show Succession, adult children duke it out to be the heir of their father’s media empire. But what if no one wanted to head the business to begin with? You’d likely have a less dramatic (or funny) show, but you might be closer to the reality of the Chouinard family.

In a move that subverts the traditional ideas of how companies are run and how wealth is often distributed among the 1% in the U.S., 83-year-old Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard announced this week that he and his family were redirecting their personal profits to the task of combating climate change. He has a reported net worth of $1.2 billion.

The Chouinards are transferring their gains and voting stock to a newly established non-profit organization, Holdfast Collective, and a new trust, the Patagonia Purpose Trust, which both aim to tackle climate change. The family isn’t stepping away from the $3 billion company altogether, as they’re still making key decisions while overseeing the Patagonia Purpose Trust.

The Chouinard children—Fletcher and Claire—aren’t clamoring for the title of CEO, instead shirking away from billionaire status. “It was important to them that they were not seen as the financial beneficiaries,” Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert told The New York Times of Chouinard’s children. “They felt very strongly about it. I know it can sound flippant, but they really embody this notion that every billionaire is a policy failure.”

If Earth is the only shareholder of Patagonia these days, and the beneficiaries are the children of the world instead of Chouinard’s own kids, who are these would-be heirs giving up the reins? Much like their father, Fletcher and Claire seem to have a tendency to not play by the stereotypical rulebook of the wealthy.

They tend to stay out of the limelight, keeping a low profile and barely speaking to the press. Both work for Patagonia, but have their own pursuits within the company. Here’s what we do know about them.

Fletcher Chouinard

A lack of interest in being a billionaire wasn’t the only thing that Chouinard passed on to his kids. While Fletcher didn’t inherit Patagonia, he’s inherited his father’s passion for being an outdoorsman. He loves to surf and kiteboard—he even has a surfing trip diary from a decade ago to prove it. In an interview with The Kiteboarder, he talks about how his dad helped him get into kitesurfing, adding that he was inspired by Yvon’s interest in expedition sea kayaking. Fletcher himself became a dad in 2018.

Fletcher heads up the more than 20-year-old company FCD Surfboards, backed by Patagonia, with the tagline: “We build each surfboard like it’s our own.” 

“We’re not just owners, or board members,” Fletcher told The New Yorker in 2016 of he and his sister working for Patagonia. He was 41 at the time, “We have normal salaries,” he continued. “We weren’t brought up to give a shit about money. Actually, I think we were raised to be slightly embarrassed about it.”

When Fletcher does talk to the press, it’s mostly about surfing. He’s said his passion for designing boards started in high school. “It was addicting for me,” he said of his surfing design experience. “Eventually, I lost interest in my major at college and jumped ship to shape full time.”

As a surfboard designer, Fletcher has been “instrumental in bringing environmental awareness to the surfing industry,” according to a 2007 profile from Business 2.0 Magazine. When asked about how to make surfboards green, he told The Kiteboarder in 2018 that he was a little jaded about alternative material being the solution, and that unless there’s a big breakthrough in the area, the most environmentally-conscious thing to do is invest in a durable board.

“Everyone has a footprint,” he said. “Even if I carve a natural deadfall tree into a surfboard, it’s still releasing CO2 out of the wood—we do our best to make a product that lasts a long time.” 

Claire Chouinard

Claire proves to be even more elusive than her older brother with a minimal digital footprint. A glimmer of her personality shone at age 12, when she dyed her orange with Kool-Aid before a dinner with the Clinton family in 1992, a tale her father once told The New Yorker.

She took her artsy side to Otis College of Art and Design, which she graduated from in 2006. Today, she channels her creativity by working in the fashion side of Patagonia, responsible for some of the brand’s designs. True to both the company and her family, Claire is focused on the environment.

“Our current creative director Claire Chouinard really sets the tone for inspiring us to whole-heartedly embrace our company’s statement of purpose: We are in business to save our home planet,” Patagonia design director Carrie Childs said in an interview last year. “Every creative decision, every design choice is filtered through that overarching purpose.” 

Claire was the co-designer for Patagonia’s Truth to Materials collection in 2014, a line that focused on “responsible manufacturing” and using the “purest materials.” “Let the materials shine in their own light. Don’t fight them; let them do what they naturally want to do,” Claire said during the ad campaign.

Much like her brother, Claire has expressed a vested interest in making sure Patagonia aligns with her morals. As she told The New Yorker in 2016, when she was 38, “If the company became something I didn’t believe in or approve of, I wouldn’t want to be here.”

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