Patagonia’s R&D Center, the Forge, Has Never Lived More in the Present

3 min read
May 21, 2020
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The crisis caused by COVID-19 has badly hit the retail industry, and Patagonia is one of those affected. Founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia is famous for supporting environmental causes for a long time. Many people don’t know that the company owns the R&D Center, dubbed the Forge. A place that houses prototypes and concepts, years before they hit the shelves, has been recently transformed into a face mask factory. 

The Forge is a place for experimentation with new fabrics, materials, and ways to use them in future products. However, if the already existing products need any improvements, they also happen there. Opened in the previous decade, the Forge is where all the technical clothing advancements from Patagonia come into existence.

Like all non-essential businesses, Patagonia has shut its doors in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They went a step further and paused their ecommerce arm, too. In true Patagonia fashion, they took a stand against the coronavirus and decided, “To make a meaningful contribution to the escalating pandemic,” says Glen Morden, the brand’s VP of product innovation, materials, and development. 

Before the mask production started, the company made sure they could contribute to the cause with the tools they already had. After that, the state of California granted Patagonia permission to reopen the Forge. With all safety measures in mind, the team started the production process with baby steps, slowly adjusting the workflow along the way. 

The first mask samples made with standard Patagonia fabrics were ready within 48 hours, and the final concept was ready by the end of the week. All of this was possible thanks to the people in the advanced R&D team. It turns out that they all have home studios with sewing machines

As an environmentally friendly company, Patagonia used the fabrics that they already had in stock in large quantities. Gear Patrol reports that, “The current mask design employs a Nano-Air face fabric paired with a Capilene lightweight lining. It’s intended to be a comfortable, durable and reusable civilian mask.”

Patagonia went the extra mile, and they are also repairing 20,000 N95 medical masks from the 2017 Thomas wildfire that people can reuse. Patagonia intends to sell the remade masks to the city of Ventura that was heavily affected by the fire. A $1.50 price tag won’t make for a big profit, but that’s also not the main goal. Glen Morden revealed he plans to make 250.000 masks in the next quarter If there are enough sewing machines to scale the process.

Simultaneously with supporting the people with masks, the company is slowly getting back on track financially. This is not the time when many of us think about spending money on non-essential products. However, the email subject line, “Back to Business,” sent to customers on April 20, must have put smiles on their faces.

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