Historically, outdoor companies have offered their products on discount through what are often called Pro programs: if you use the stuff a lot, for work, whether you’re a camping guide or a journalist (really), you can apply. And law-enforcement officers are often included in that group. Columbia’s program applies to guides, media and non-profit professionals, and “employees who serve in local and national government agencies who actively work in the outdoors”; a terms and conditions page specifically includes law enforcement. One North Face discount for ”EMTs, firefighters, police etc.” is part of a larger first responder COVID-19 discount program, started in April, that lasts through the end of this year; there’s an additional 10% military discount, too. Patagonia’s pro program, for “qualified outdoor professionals, environmental grant recipients, and outdoor industry partners,” stops short of police, but a Google cache of a law enforcement discounts detail page from this winter explains the terms of the company’s unspecified “not public and highly discretionary” discount, one which is “only offered to a very select section of the armed forces and law enforcement.” Arc’Teryx’s pro program, meanwhile, specifically excludes law enforcement and military members in its language, but an instructional post from a youth military discount blog (yes, they exist; they are legion) states the company used to offer discounts to those two groups. In a statement, Patagonia told GQ they “have been making changes to our pro program over the past year,” but have no other changes to announce; Columbia and The North Face did not offer comment.
These discounts fit under a broader umbrella of police appeasement that is about as old as the job itself. The oft-repeated donuts discount—officers started eating them after WWI, received discounts, and kept doing it—is less a joke than a bellwether: bakeries and restaurants that don’t offer discounts are less likely to get visited by officers on duty, and when the free lunches end, forces boycott. The small gifts baked into police work—given out here and there, then expected forever—seem more like a shakedown than a thank you, blurring the line between an individual officer and the power their position holds, a practice so ingrained that former Chicago PD commissioner Orlando Wilson, a father of modern policing, conceded that “policemen are the world’s greatest ‘moochers.’” (He was against gifts.) Digitally, police get their discounts from a buffet—proper paperwork opens access to GovX.com, a kinda military CostCo that discounts 20% or more on a flotilla of brands, tickets, travel and entertainment—and a la carte, on everything from Dickies and new Buicks to swimming pools and cheap houses (the last one through a government program; it didn’t work out very well). Taken together, the line blurs: officers get discounts on everything because they have before, in a pattern that seems less about outfitting outdoor professionals and first responders with the odd jacket and more about keeping on officers’ and police forces’ good sides.
Beyond these discounts, some of these companies cater explicitly to groups who have clearly and repeatedly been shown to be harmful and deadly. Arc’Teryx and Patagonia’s tactical clothing lines are designed with those groups’ mostly outdoor jobs in mind. Since tactical clothing is mostly brandless, and without affect, and because government contracts are closely held, it’s difficult for anyone but the most astute observer to distinguish by sight. As a result, it’s a bit of a secret—or at least privileged info—which military branches and police departments wear what, and whether individual officers are buying tactical clothing on their own, or whether it’s issued. And it’s important to note that LEAF is not strictly a government retailer: plenty of products are available from tactical clothing outfitters for civilians; they’re also heavy on Grailed, and recently popular with the likes of Virgil Abloh and Drake. LEAF, in a statement provided to GQ, “is saddened and angered by the death of George Floyd. We are deeply concerned about racism, discrimination, and violence, and actively support people’s right to peaceful protest. LEAF produces product that is operationally relevant to NATO-aligned special operations forces and law enforcement tactical units (including emergency response, counter-terrorism, and hostage rescue teams),” seemingly highlighting that the gear is intended for Zero Dark Thirty missions and high-intensity policing, and not day-to-day uniformed work.
Lost Arrow, Patagonia’s tactical clothing arm, is even more closely held. The clothes—overalls, some soft-shell jackets, a neck gaiter, all army green or grey—only appear on one webstore, Tactical Distributors, without Lost Arrow branding, marked as PATAGONIA TACTICAL *GOV’T SALES ONLY*. (Other tactical webstores, like us-elitegear and botach, each have Lost Arrow sections but don’t sell the brand). The only Lost Arrow mention in Patagonia’s corporate literature is a short one—”Lost Arrow, Inc. dba Lost Arrow Project (government)”—on the Patagonia Works FAQ page, and the clothes hold just as low a profile in tactical arenas, where they don’t seem to get discussed, or fetishized, the same way LEAF’s do. It’s obscure in the way that Patagonia Works’ other less-discussed companies—a venture capital fund, a films and media division; food—seem at first. The secrecy, fair game for any privately held company, makes it hard to tell if Lost Arrow is a curio or driver for Patagonia. (A LinkedIn job posting, since removed, is the only public clue: “The Lost Arrow Project is a subsidiary of Patagonia Works that is solely focused on government contracting line of business.”) Lost Arrow’s name isn’t new—a pillar in Yosemite, it was the name of Patagonia’s holding company from 1984 until 2013, before it rebranded to Patagonia Works—but as a tactical distributor it’s less established. LEAF, whose origin story is said to involve a backpack design competition for the US Marines in the late ‘90s, is as well documented as Nike compared to Patagonia’s undiscussed, not-for-sale, out-of-nowhere tactical line. (Patagonia did not comment on Lost Arrow.)