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The Unexpected Way Coronavirus Is Reinforcing Patagonia’s Passion for People, the Environment

Patagonia was one of the first retailers to close during the coronavirus pandemic, and the outdoor standout’s stores and offices remain closed for now. Currently, the company is going through the process of reimagining its future, said Patagonia CEO and president Rose Marcario.

“COVID-19 has affected every business, but it just means that we have to sharpen our focus,” she said in a conversation today with LinkedIn editor-in-chief Daniel Roth. “We’ve all been going through a really rough time over the last eight weeks. We’ve had to shut down our companies, or we have had to furlough people. It’s really hard on people.”

For many leaders, making the decision to furlough workers was particularly challenging. Marcario said the most important thing, for Patagonia, was to show workers placed on unpaid leave “that we still care about you, and you are still part of our community.”

“One of the things we did through the process when we had to furlough people ourselves [was] we said ‘what will our employees need?'” she said, explaining that the company talked managers through explaining the situation and provided resources to assist furloughed workers with filing for unemployment.

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At the same time, Marcario believes the United States’ purported lack of social safety nets — including universal health care — has intensified the coronavirus’ impact.

“I don’t think we have to separate business from life. Business is life, and businesses are made up of people,” she explained. “Other countries are handling this much better than we are because they have better health care, they have better safety nets.”

While some retailers, such as Nordstrom, TJ Maxx and Macy’s, have begun reopening doors, Patagonia’s corporate offices and 39 stores are remaining shut. The company does not plan to open its physical stores for shopping until at least June, and could wait until the fall or winter, Marcario told The New York TimesPatagonia was one of the first retailers to announce store closures, shuttering its doors on March 13, several days before others made the call.

Although COVID-19 has dominated much conversation around business in recent weeks, Marcario noted that the environment continues to be top of mind for Patagonia. The company has previously stated the goal of becoming carbon-positive, or taking more carbon out of the environment than it puts in.

“If we protect the planet, we protect ourselves. If we protect the community, we protect ourselves,” she said. “Standing up for these issues is nothing new. It is more intensified by what’s happening with COVID. But it’s not like we have to choose one or the other. We can do both.”

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