Is playing outdoors just a pastime? We asked the head of Patagonia China.

Zeng Weigang is a veteran outdoor enthusiast who entered the outdoor industry 20 years ago and brought Patagonia to China in 2006. Zeng has witnessed the development of China’s outdoor industry. This past spring, he traveled to Zhejiang, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Xinjiang and found that China’s outdoor industry has many opportunities for innovation, and that the combination of work and outdoor sports can become a new way of life for people.
In the spring of 2023, Zeng spent the entire months of February and March in Beijing, traveling to surf breaks across the country’s South-South. As the head of Patagonia China, he couldn’t wait to get to every outdoor sports destination, to investigate, and in his own words, to “play” with the work, and to enjoy it.
Zeng Weigang went to Zhoushan, Zhejiang Province, as well as Guangdong Province, where there are surfing spots in Xichong, Shenzhen and Huidong, Huizhou. He went to the old rock climbing resort of Yangshuo, Guangxi, and talked to local rock climbers. He also saw the new sport of “kite skiing” – a combination of kite surfing and skiing – in Wo Mu, Xinjiang. If three years in the midst of the epidemic catalyzed a period of rapid growth in the outdoor industry, then 2023 may be the year to answer the question of whether outdoor sports in China have really gone from niche to mass?

It was only at the end of the tour that we finally met Zeng Weigang in Beijing, wearing a vintage Patagonia blue T-shirt, his face marred by long exposure to the sun. A veteran outdoor enthusiast, Zeng has been in the outdoor industry since 2003, and he brought Patagonia to China in 2006. At the time, the concept of “outdoor” was not a big part of China’s outdoor industry, and over the past 20 years, Zeng has witnessed the growth of China’s outdoor industry, and says, “Last year, more than half of our revenue came from specialty apparel.”
Patagonia’s Beijing store is located in Sanlitun SOHO, a simple yet warm outdoor space of red bricks and wood, with some of the same classic styles of fleece jackets, sweatshirts and sun hats that have been around for years, pushed aside by the uniform silver-gray facade of the shopping district. We bought a cup of coffee nearby. Zeng Weigang asked the clerk to put the Americano in the thermos cup that came with it. The top of the cup reads, “Single use, Think twice,” a cup that Patagonia is co-launching with several independent cafes in Shanghai for 2020. Using his own cup has become a habit for Zeng Weigang.

Since its inception, environmentalism has been at the center of Patagonia. Founder Yvon Chouinard started out as a blacksmith, making nails for rock climbing. Later, they discontinued the production of nails that harmed rock walls, advocated for a 1% Earth tax, made fleece jackets from recycled plastic bottles, and offered a recycling and repair service for old clothes.
A small chalkboard in the store reads, “Earth is now our only shareholder.” Last September, Yvon, 83, issued an open letter announcing that he was “donating the company to the Earth. All of Patagonia’s roughly $3 billion ownership will be transferred to a trust and a nonprofit organization to support environmental causes.
It’s another “outing” for Patagonia. It’s no surprise to Wei-Gang Tsang, who has represented Patagonia for the past few years. Every few years, something gets a lot of attention, such as doing the opposite on Black Friday and asking people to “buy less, think more” or putting “The President stole your land” on the front page of the website and suing Trump to protect national park land. Trump.
“None of this is PR hype, it’s just what Patagonia has always done, protecting the places we play.” Zeng Weigang emphasized Patagonia’s philosophy of wanting to distance itself from the heat as much as possible.

Zeng Weigang’s first contact with outdoor sports was skiing in northern Canada, then he went to work in Silicon Valley for the convenience of skiing, which is very close to the Winter Olympics site Heavenly Lake Tahoe, and that’s when he came into contact with Patagonia, which for a long time was even the uniform of many Silicon Valley programmers. For a long time, Patagonia was even the work uniform of many Silicon Valley programmers, which Zeng Weigang didn’t understand, and “a lot of the people who were doing outdoor work were programmers who had switched careers.”


Zeng Weigang is the first wave of programmers, in the 1990s, he was an IT leader in a Canadian start-up company, the company is growing rapidly, to be listed on the NASDAQ. It sounded like a story of financial freedom, and Zeng Weigang figured that as an initial employee, he’d get a lot of options when the time came. But three weeks before the IPO, they were caught in the first Internet bubble in history, and the owner ended up selling the company cheaply.


Zeng Weigang felt disheartened. He decided to do something he loved, like going back to China to ski and see if he could start an outdoor business there. After more than a decade abroad, he did not know much about the Chinese market. It was 2003 and there were only a small number of hikers and mountaineers in China. There was no domestic independent sports brand, but there were many factories to foreign brands OEM. “At that time, the Beijing Zoo Wholesale Market was the largest base for outdoor products, and there were some OEM factories that put unqualified products into the wholesale market for sale.” Zeng Weigang called that time “Outdoor 1.0”, representing the barbaric.
At the earliest, Zeng Weigang opened a collection store in Beijing and tried to sell skiing equipment and mountaineering equipment. The business was not good. Later, he introduced some foreign brands, including Patagonia, and business was never good. He tried putting photos of celebrities such as Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat and Schwarzenegger wearing Patagonia in the store to attract consumers through the celebrity effect. He spent a lot of energy on grounding himself in the Chinese context. “It didn’t work, it was a lot of useless work.” These “useless efforts” are the biggest regret of Zeng Weigang’s entrepreneurship for more than ten years, “If I could do it all over again, I would not change anything, although the business will be very difficult for more than ten years, but at least we are having fun.”
Patagonia’s business in China has not been good. Zeng Weigang believes that the 2008 Olympic Games set off a wave of sports fever, fire Nike, Adi and other popular sports brands, but “this is only a small wave. For niche outdoor brands like Patagonia, there is still not much room for survival.
The real upswing came after 2018, especially the three years of the epidemic, when the outdoor industry saw explosive growth. The blockade of the country has led to the development of outdoor gathering places in the country, and sports such as surfing, skiing, and rock climbing have developed rapidly in the country, with a core on-the-ground community. At the same time, the oppressive social atmosphere has made leisure sports such as camping and Frisbee popular in the cities, becoming an entry point for people to get in touch with the outdoors. After twenty years in the industry, China’s outdoor industry has reached the state that Zeng Weigang expected at the beginning.

*** Translated with (free version) ***


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