The Story Behind DeRay Mckesson’s Patagonia Vest
The Black Lives Matter activist on his respect for Patagonia and why a vest is the most versatile item of clothing you can own
DeRay Mckesson, one of the most recognized faces and voices in the Black Lives Matter movement, has spent the past two years crisscrossing the U.S. From Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore, Maryland, he’s been a constant presence, on a variety of platforms, calling for police reform and social justice. And regardless of location, he is almost always wearing an iconic blue Patagonia down vest. “I was visiting [New York City in 2009] and I just didn’t have anything warm,” Mckesson says. “I went to the store, and was like, ‘I’ll get a vest.’”
That piece, an old edition of Patagonia’s Down Sweater Vest, has endured lots of wear and repair since it was bought seven years ago. But from Mckesson’s early days at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he heard Patagonia founder Yvon Couinard speak, Mckesson says he maintains a respect for the company as he depends on its products.
OUTSIDE: Had you bought anything from Patagonia before?
MCKESSON: I went to Bowdoin in [Brunswick,] Maine, so I knew of both L.L. Bean (based in Brunswick) and Patagonia. It’s a great brand, giving back to the environment. At that moment, I had an L.L. Bean book bag. That seemed like the perfect combo.
Do you have anything else from Patagonia currently?
Yes, I have a puffer coat—a jacket—and I have their signature fleece.
You’ve made an intentional choice to wear that vest on the last few late night appearances, including twice on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. You could wear anything. Why keep wearing that vest?
It’s light enough that I can carry it without packing it. And it was heavy enough that it actually keeps me warm. When I need to be warmer, I can wear a hoodie underneath it. The reality is that I’ve worn it for so long, at protests and at work, that I’m used to wearing it. And because so many of my other clothes are in storage, it remains the heaviest jacket I own. It’s my thing. I wear it every day. They don’t make this color anymore. Did you see the picture on Twitter when I tweeted them? They repaired it.
Yeah, I saw that.
They put a whole new panel on the back. They had to take off a panel because the down was coming out. I had to take it back because down was coming out of the right shoulder. But they’ve been great in repairing it quickly.
How do you care for it?
I wash it. I need to wash it again, actually.
Is it a symbol?
The first time I was ever impressed with Patagonia as a brand was when they released the “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign. That campaign highlighted their understanding of their role in a larger environmental justice space. That’s really important. I was aware of that when I was at Bowdoin. I was aware of their commitment to the environment and justice when I was at Bowdoin, because [Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard], he came to speak at Bowdoin. That campaign specifically, I was like, this is actually a real commitment.
Where was your own philosophy as far as its evolution when you heard Chouinard speak?
I was there at the tail end of his [talk]. I’m not making up anything about how Patagonia spurred me to act. Patagonia, importantly, has a commitment and actually lives that commitment, and I think that’s important.
Last question: Your vest has its own Twitter account. What are your thoughts on that?
I think it’s fun. I’m as surprised as other people with the way the account engages. I follow the account to see what it has to say about justice and other issues too.