As coronavirus cases continue to surge in Brazil, Roberto Funari, CEO of Havaianas parent company Alpargatas, remains hopeful that a recovery is on its way. Since the pandemic began, Brazil has recorded the highest COVID-19 death tolls in the world, second to the United States. At the end of last month, the death tally had reached 400,000.
For Brazil-based Funari, the health of his employees and supporting the Brazilian community has been his main priorities throughout the past year.
“We have a need to protect this ecosystem,” he told FN, noting the company has been committed to making no layoffs. “The situation in Brazil has been a combination of the escalation of the cases because of these new variants and the slow pace of the vaccine. But at the same time, there has been a very strong mobilization of our society, from all sectors, including companies and organizations like us, that put resources together to help mitigate this.”
Alpargatas, for instance, has produced and donated 1.3 million medical masks, more than 80,000 professional shoes for hospital workers and 400,000 pairs of Havaianas sandals for patients.
In addition, the company joined other initiatives to combat the pandemic, including the UN Global Compact, Unidos Pela Vacina, which is a movement to get all Brazilians vaccinated by September, and Todos pela Saúde, an alliance formed for companies and experts to collaborate in the fight against the coronavirus.
“As a CEO, you have the responsibility to protect your employees,” Funari added. “And you are part of a community where you need to engage and support. So that, for me, was the biggest lesson learned, that I would take with me and with the business. We are not alone as brand. We should be serving the society.”
Despite the economic crisis in Brazil, Havaianas has seen record sales gains, growing 6% in 2020, said Funari. The CEO credits the increase to being able to adapt quickly in the beginning of the pandemic: Havaianas retooled and restructured its seven factories to meet COVID-19 safety standards within two weeks, leading to very limited interruptions in production.
Funari said, “The decision to protect our factories, having them operate safely and uninterrupted, created a whole domino effect and a positive one across our [supply] chain, down to our franchises in Brazil. This gave us an advantage in terms of supplying the markets.” (He noted that international markets outside of Brazil currently make up 40% of its sales.)
The CEO also cited other reasons for Havaianas’ growth, including the fashion casualization trend, the brand’s accessible price point and a strong existing connection to consumers. Because of the high demand, Alpargatas gained 1,000 employees during this time as well.
Looking ahead, Funari believes the brand is well-positioned to continue its growth — especially on the digital front — with its own e-commerce site tripling its numbers.
“Online is bringing this acceleration. And as we see the recovery happening and the restrictions becoming more flexible, we’re going to see a strong correlation [in sales] with the countries that have been vaccinating fast and lifting restrictions,” he said.