Patagonia Portraits: Andy Chakoumakos
DATE PUBLISHED: 1/31/17
Andy is coming up to his 16th year at Patagonia Freeport (ca. May 2001), and he continues to drive an hour and twenty minutes each way to come to work! Originally a part-timer, Andy used to lead Outward Bound trips out of Hurricane Island, cross-country skiing, and dogsledding trips with his wife.
From our sit-down conversation:
AC: My name is Andrew Chakoumakos, and I started at Patagonia at the Freeport store in 2001 - i guess May of 2001. I had known about Patagonia for quite a while, prior to that, because I really liked their product more than anything.
At the time, I worked for the organization Outward Bound - the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School - where I was leading trips, camping, backpacking trips. And in the wintertime, I was leading cross country skiing and dogsledding trips, primarily.
The Patagonia clothing, in particular, was well-suited to those activities, and I really used the product pretty hard at those times. I liked how it functioned, how it worked - the whole focus of the company itself. Loved the catalogues, all the great pictures, and seeing people really using the gear. It just made sense. At the time, I needed a job . It just made sense to try and work for Patagonia because it fit my needs in a lot of ways, and the company itself fit my needs too, needing a part time job.
I was still doing Outward Bound at the time - I couldn’t just ditch that completely - i needed to keep doing that because that was my “ultimate job’ at the time, and the Patagonia piece was just a supplement to that.
As I started to work for the company, I was able to learn more about the company from the inside, which opened my eyes to the broad spectrum of things that Patagonia does. We make clothing, but at the same time, we stand behind it with our Iron-Clad Guarantee. We give money back to the environment from our sales, we try to do good with the manufacturing of things.
I’ve seen that evolve now over many years - I guess I’m coming up on my 16th year here.
VV: As a supplementary job, of course.
AC: Now, it is my only job at this point -still part time because i live too far away to make it a full time gig.
VV: How far is 'too far'?
AC: Well, if I go by mileage, its 57 miles away. Time-wise its an hour and twenty minute drive. But to be able to work part-time and get the health benefits and the other benefits patagonia has that we’ve taken advantage over the years has been really helpful.
They don’t do it anymore, but they used to have a program where if you bought a hybrid car, you got a $2,000 check. My daughter is adopted. They have an adoption policy where they’ll give $5,000 towards that - which was really cool. And then just the benefit to be able to outfit my family with clothes that will last a long time that suit our needs.
For many years there, even though i was working the 'inside' job at Patagonia, my job was being outside. Doing Outward Bound programs in particular, i would spend close to 200 days in the field throughout the year. and so I really lived in the clothing all the time, and it really functions the way you need it to, in that kind of environment.
Being apart of the company for so long, just seeing it change, to even, in some ways in more of an environmental focus, primarily in the manufacturing of the product at this point, trying to do doing the least amount of harm that we can do to the environment.
Way back when, there was some recycled content, but now we can recycle practically everything we make, and it turns into something new for somebody else. That kind of standard is just amazing to me that they’ve been able to pull that off over the years - and it’s going to just keep happening more and more. They’ve had impacts on the whole industry of outdoor clothing - and it’s not just us that they're doing it anymore; it’s the standard now. That just exists in the marketplace. So that's been really exciting.
Just seeing the care for the people: they really treat us well as employees. You know the pay is certainly not over the top, but the side benefits are fabulous. The health insurance that we don’t pay into is mind boggling to me.
VV: You don't have to pay a lot for insurance, or you don't pay at all?
Yeah, we don’t pay anything towards our insurance. Now it shows up on our W-2s as to what the company puts out to pay for our health insurance. When you add that dollar into my salary, my salary is pretty good. Its something like $4k a year - a huge amount of money that goes into the insurance side of things that doesn’t come out of my pocket , that the company pays for - which is huge.
I really like what Patagonia has done over the years with those benefits, making sure that we are getting what we need to have a sustainable lifestyle. And also seeing people that have different walks of life, they are so passionate about what they do, they really give 110% all the time. It’s that lifestyle I learned when working at Outward Bound is that you work hard. You might work hard and not get paid a lot, but you reap great benefits because you affect people in positive ways - and that comes back in so many different ways. and Patagonia does that.
VV: Have you been a fan of these high company standards before you began, or after?
AC: When I first started, I remember that the company was trying to push the piece of non-GMO. I guess it was the corn production - it was really difficult to find non-GMO corn. It really didn’t exist anywhere. So that was one of our focuses within the company, was to try and work with groups to not have genetically modified corn. That was a big push.
Almost every year, we try and come up with a vision on what environmental message we want to give that year - or its over a couple years, depending on what it is - and I think that’s a really fabulous thing Patagonia has done. They really walk their talk about wanting to protect the environment. We as a company, every year, come up with the thing that we want to focus on to make the environment better. From the inside, seeing our ability to do that is amazing. As the stewards to educate customers that come into the store, we teach them why Patagonia products cost what they do, because of all the stuff behind the scenes.
VV: Your schedule has been interesting over the years. Has your relationship with the company fluctuated over the years?
AC: I think it followed a straight line, for the most part. You know like in any business, you have people that create diversity for one, over the time its been the people that fluctuated that graph a little bit. I think Patagonia has always been consistent with their message. But the people that maybe have worked within our store are not necessarily grasping that as well as others, and maybe that’s been the fluctuation that has happened.
I feel like my track has been pretty steady. It wasn’t the plan to be here as long as I have, but the big thing for me is that the job has fit my lifestyle, and the time commitment has fit my lifestyle, but then Patagonia as a company also my lifestyle. and then on the flip side, I fit the Patagonia model, as well, because I”m the kind of person that Patagonia loves. You know I use the product the way its supposed to be used, not just wearing it down the street for fashion’s sake. I use this stuff hard. For 20+ years, my wife and I had sled dogs, and we had a business where we guided people using the dogs, and so I would use those garments really hard. I’ve probably worn through probably a couple Men’s inferno jackets over the years, and it's just from the constant use of them. Eventually, stuff is falling apart on it, because i’ve used it so hard.
That's what Patagonia wants. They want people to use the garments that way, that’s their vision: have something, have it for a long time. Repair it if you need to, and it’s just gone hand in hand and fit my lifestyle.
VV: What has kept you here so long?
It’s that whole company vision, philosophy. But it’s really the people that work at the company. We at our store in Freeport, over the years, we were always known as the store of the users. “Whoa, the people in Freeport really know the stuff, they use the stuff."
The quality of the people that work here is amazing. They are passionate about what they like to do, they are genuine, they are honest, they want others to feel that too. That’s been a big thing for me too. The people are fabulous. There’s rarely a day when I don't want to go to work. Its more like “I’m going to go hang out with a bunch of people get to go to work with people and love to work with” - and that has been a really positive thing.
I think over time, there have been periods when it hasn’t been so exciting, but that's maybe been the people that were here. And some of those people have moved on now, and the people that have replaced them that to me are just fabulous. I’ve worked with some of the best managers I’ve ever worked with, and I see that in the whole hierarchy of Patagonia in general. You start moving up the chain and it’s like Wow, the people who are in these positions of regional manager overseeing these huge projects, they’re just amazing people. And that keeps me saying, “Okay. I’m doing the right thing, even though I’m modifying my lifestyle to put up with driving to work, it’s all worthwhile.”