Patagonia Bids Adieu to Paddlesports

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Hasta luego, paddlesports.

That’s the sentiment at Patagonia, which, after years of making paddlesports apparel under both the Lotus Designs and Patagonia brands, has officially bid adieu to the paddlesports business.

According to Snews, retailers recently received closeout lists of Lotus and other Patagonia paddlesports gear as the first step in liquidating inventory.

The news marks the end of a paddlesports business built on the Lotus Designs name, which was co-founded by Philip Curry in 1992 and sold to Patagonia in 1999. Following the acquisition of the Lotus brand, Patagonia positioned all of its paddling clothing and gear under the Lotus label–the ultimate compliment to Curry.

“I was surprised when they decided to convert their brand over to Lotus, instead of the other way around,” says Curry. “I was honored to negotiate and sell to them.

Curry views Patagonia’s decision as a positive one for Astral, which is unveiling four new PFD models this year. “On a business level for Astral, it’s great news,” he says, adding that he severed all emotional ties to the brand when he sold it in 1998.

Still, he can’t blame them for the move. “I view it as a wise decision on their part,” he says. “Businesses like Lotus have to be driven with a passionate vision, and if that vision’s not there it’s easy for them to fade away.

“Patagonia is so strong becasue they stay focused,” he adds. “Paddlesports, and PFDs in particular, are so specialized that it’s hard to make it work. It’s outside their core expertise. Still, it’s symbolic of what happens when big companies get involved in padsdlesports. They think they can make money in the segment, but they can’t.”

In 2006, Patagonia reorganized its brand architecture, with Water Girl becoming Patagonia Women’s Surf brand as of 2008 and Lotus Designs becoming Patagonia Paddling in Spring 2007.

“Patagonia has a long history in paddlesports – it’s a core part of our culture,” Patagonia CEO Casey Sheahan said in 2006 announcing the end of the Lotus Designs stand-alone division. “All of us here at Patagonia, including our ambassadors, employees and dealers are rallied behind this category and look forward to increasing sales.”

By mid-2007, even with the restructuring, Patagonia began quietly shopping the Lotus name. With no offer substantial enough to support a sale, it embargoed new designs for 2008 and eventually decided to leave the category.

Sheahan did tell SNEWS® that Patagonia is still very interested in someone acquiring the Lotus Designs trademark. “If someone wants to buy the mark we are still willing to sell it, and we have 8 to 10 viable UL- approved PFD platforms that have value,” he said. “We are leaving the business and writing down the goodwill, and we feel bad as we would love to serve all these specialty paddlesports markets, but we had to come to grips with the fact that it is simply not a sizeable enough venture to continue.”

SNEWS® View: Some industry pundits and insiders with whom SNEWS® has spoken over the years point to the fact that Philip Curry launched Astral Buoyancy immediately after his non-compete expired and began selling PFDs head-to-head with his old brand. Suddenly, there were two PFD companies competing for the very small slice of the market that was not growing. Others have said it was more a matter of Patagonia trying to be something it no longer is – a paddlesports company – though SNEWS® would point out that the company was once well-known for its paddling jackets, apparel and such, which was an outgrowth of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s passion for paddling. While disappointing, Patagonia insiders could see this writing on the wall long ago and the company was prepared for it. Perhaps underscoring the futility and weakness of the Patagonia paddlesports brand is the fact that despite attempts to sell Lotus Designs, there were simply no takers. Whitewater paddling is still in the proverbial toilet and there just aren’t too many companies making money. The market, it seems, already has more than enough choice, and one less PFD and paddlesports apparel brand on the market doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing for those who remain.