Last weekend, a photo started making the rounds on Twitter. It was a simple shot, a closeup of a clothing tag being pushed up by the tip of a finger to reveal the underside. Behind it, the peaks of the mountains on Patagonia's instantly recognizable logo were visible. In the foreground, on the flip size of the part of the tag that presumably noted the sizing, a four-word message: "Vote the assholes out."
The Tweet has now been liked more than 55,000 times, and sparked a wave of questions and coverage. Is the tag real? Sure is! Who are the assholes? Politicians, of any party, who deny the reality of climate change and the science behind it, and refuse to take action to fight an increasingly pressing crisis. Honestly, it's all been a nice time, one of those brief, beautiful moments on the internet where a whole lot of people get to delight in something at the same time. Plus, there's swearing!
But I still had questions. How exactly did that tag make its way onto a batch of Patagonia's "Road to Regenerative" shorts? How long was it out in the wild before it was discovered? Who gave the go-ahead? So I called up Corley Kenna, the Ventura, California-based brand's director of global communications and public relations, to talk about clothing tags, assholes at the very top of the ballot, still more assholes down-ballot, and what we can all do to get them all out of office this November. A condensed and edited version of our conversation is below.
How did the tags come to be? And when the shorts actually hit the market? Were they out there for a while and people just didn't notice it?
This was the work of our very smart and creative design team. This was not a two-years-ago marketing strategy. And I don't know exactly when the shorts would have arrived in Reno, which is where our distribution center is. But when we found out about them—when I found out about them, and a couple of my other colleagues in Ventura—I was like, "Let's see who finds them, and let the world find it on its own." I will say, when our founder found out about them, Yvon Chouinard, his response was, "These are great. I need them in a size 32." But it's been really fun to watch people discover the tag. That is the first question that just about everybody has asked, "Is this real?" And yeah, they're very real. Unfortunately, we're already sold out of them. We haven't made a decision yet on if we're making more. At least if we are, I haven't heard that decision.
I wanted to ask you if there was any hesitation about the specific use of the word “assholes,” but if you only found out once the design team had done it, I suppose you wouldn't actually know how that conversation went.
Well, so here's the thing though: The saying, "Vote the assholes out," we've been saying that at Patagonia for a few years. You can find some examples of T-shirts that we never sold, but that were made that say, "Vote the assholes out." I think you can find them on eBay or something like that now. But also our founder wrote a letter to the 1% For The Planet community, which is the organization that he helped found, and is a very big part of the relationship that we have to our products—when you buy our product, 1 percent of sales goes to this organization. We use that to fund thousands of grassroots environmental organizations.
He wrote a letter to that group earlier this year. And he really spelled out in a postscript of the note, "Remember, vote the assholes out." All those politicians who don't believe we should do anything about climate change. Our design team, they heard it two years ago, and when he said that, we made those shirts. And then of course, when it was reinforced—it was spelled out in his letter—it gave them the permission to insert it on the tag. [laughs]
These are political artifacts, in a way. Depending on whether or not the company makes more, I'd venture to guess that every single pair of these shorts is going to be considered a collector's item. So, I'm curious to know how you feel about having put something like that into the canon alongside the "I Like Ike" buttons of the world.
Wow. Well, I would love to think that these might end up in the American History Smithsonian Museum one day, alongside an "I Like Ike" button. For sure, that would be amazing. I don't think we've thought that far into this, but I think it also reinforces one of our core values, which is that we actually, all the products that we make, we want to change the relationship that people have with their clothes, and create this real culture of ownership. “Hold on to these.”
I would also say that we're focused on simply making democracy more accessible. That's a really big part of our election strategy this year. And we were doing that a variety of ways. We're co-founders of a movement called Time to Vote, which as of this week, actually, has over 1,000 companies in it. That's really exciting, because that means millions of Americans won't have to choose between earning a paycheck and voting. The other thing that we're committed to doing this year is supporting Power to the Polls, which is this really great effort to recruit poll workers. We're facing a real poll worker shortage.
And we're really committed to sharing out localized, up-to-date information that's reliable. There's so much misinformation about how to vote this year, and it's hard to figure out what's right. In some states you have to have a picture of your ID submitted with your ballot. Who has access to a photocopier right now? So we're going to provide that. Texas is one of the States that requires that, so our stores in Texas will have a photocopier. If you want to come by, we'll copy your ID so you can include that with your ballot. We'll be sharing out information about, if you want to vote in person early, what those dates are, when you can do that. Stuff like that, just really trying to make democracy more accessible for people.
Sewing a mildly profane tag on the inside of a pair of shorts might seem like a strange way to realize the lofty goal of making democracy more accessible—especially when the company opts not to market that message. But Patagonia has a preternatural knack for this stuff. Consider, for instance, the past success of initiatives like the "Don't buy this jacket" campaign, which in 2011 raised awareness about environmental issues and (perhaps counterintuitively) boosted sales for the very jacket featured in the audacious New York Times full-page ad that had everyone talking about the brand. Then consider all the attention the "Vote the assholes out" tag got when it was discovered. How many people started talking again? How many, hopefully, started thinking about the role they could play in giving "the assholes" the boot?
And finally, consider this: You're still reading. That means you've taken in paragraph after paragraph of information about climate change, activism, and what you can do to get involved and start working towards political and social change. Still wondering why they sewed that tag in those shorts?