clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Full transcript: Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario onstage for Recode Decode

“We need to think in longer time frames so we don’t destroy the planet in the short term.”

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

A free climber clings to a rock face. Patagonia

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Rose Marcario, the CEO of outdoor clothing company Patagonia, joins Kara onstage to talk about Trump, Silicon Valley, capitalism and more.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as a lover of the great outdoors, or at least it looks great on Instagram, but in my spare time I talk tech and you’re listening to Recode Decode from the Vox Media podcast network.

Today, we’re gonna play an interview I conducted at TechFest Northwest last month in Portland, Oregon. I talk to Patagonia’s CEO, Rose Marcario, who has been a vocal critic of President Trump and his Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke. She was previously the CFO of the tech pioneer, General Magic, and spent 15 years working in private equity. Let’s take a listen.

Hi, everybody.

Rose Marcario: Hey, Portland.

Hey, Portland. This is an unusual venue, I have to say. Just to be clear, I’m the only lesbian who doesn’t like sports, so ... Do you like sports?


All right. Okay.

That makes two of us, Kara.

That’s what passes for a unicorn in the West Coast. Anyway, we’re here to talk about Patagonia and what you’re doing. And so I think let’s start talking a bit ... You have a tech background, right?

I do.

Because we’re gonna talk a little bit about tech because it’s in the news right now, and where it’s going. But you’ve said a lot of things about Silicon Valley, including calling the people who run it weenies, which is one of my favorite words. Let’s talk a little bit about your background in tech. You were a tech executive before you ran Patagonia?

I was. I worked in semiconductor manufacturing, and then I became the CFO of General Magic, and then I worked in private equity.

General Magic was one of the original ... The company that really was before the iPhone. It was the company that the people that went on and made the iPod and all kinds of different things.


And what was your experience in tech working there? And I want to talk about how it affects Patagonia and what you’re doing.

Yeah, at the time it was sort of the golden age of tech. It was the ’90s and there was a lot of excitement. It’s an industry that’s driven by VCs wanting to make a lot of money doing IPOs.


They were doing a lot of concept IPOs, and General Magic was one of them.

And what got you out of that? Because you would think, you’re in tech, and that it had that enormous boom through the 2000 years with the internet and things like that.

Yeah. Well, I kind of went through a midlife crisis. I had a lot of success. I was working in private equity and I was seeing how ... And I came out of finance, so I was seeing how the whole system is really designed in such a way that really isn’t good for people and the planet. These short-term five-year exits where a few investors make a bunch of money. And I was working in M&A, and when companies get bought and sold it’s usually not a good thing, and most of the time it doesn’t work, you know?


I was studying Buddhism at the time and I was feeling like the work that I was doing wasn’t in line with my values. And so I took a break and I went on retreat. And I thought I was gonna be a Buddhist nun, and then I was, like, hey, I need to stay in my wheelhouse and take the things that I’m really good at and do good in the world. Working for Yvon [Chouinard], he’s the king of responsible business. He would hate that I’m calling him a king, but it’s true.

You went there as CFO?


And then took over as CEO?


Why did you make that transition, what was between you and he?

He asked me to do it.

Right, and you wanted to be CEO, presumably. One of the few women CEOs of a large ... You can put them on your hand.

Yeah, yeah, I mean it kind of happened naturally. I think we both saw business should be a force for good in the world, should have responsibility to the planet and to the community. We felt really strongly about that. I think I’m more of a traditional business person, Yvon is more of an entrepreneur, and the combination of us together is, I think, pretty powerful.

Since you’ve been CEO the revenues have risen four times, right?


Something like that. So you’re a good business person, obviously.


Talk about why you think that is. Because one of the things you’ve been doing is sticking to this idea of — there’s lots of words for it — but essentially social business, right? Or a socially minded business?

Yeah. I think people today, and especially in younger people, they see what’s going on. They have more information at their fingertips than the president had 15 years ago, right?


And they know what’s happening to the climate. They know we’re using the resources of the planet in such a way that we’re gonna use them up and murder the planet. I think they see that and they want to support businesses that are actually doing something good for people and the planet. And they understand that capitalism is great, but it needs to morph and change and evolve into something that makes work more meaningful, people happier and healthier. And that’s the way that we see it, and we’re trying to lead by example.

One of the things you did was sue the White House? Sue the White House.

Yeah, we sued the White House over this public lands issue.

Right, right. Talk about that.

Okay, first of all, we’ve been in conservation for 30 years, and conservation is a totally bipartisan effort. It really is. I mean, people from all walks of life care about preserving wilderness. And Trump and Zinke did something that no other president has ever done, which is to reverse national monument designations of past presidents. It is horrible and illegal, we think, so we’re suing him.

What was the thinking going into this? You are running a business.


You do worry about, well, you’re a private company, but you do have to think about your employees and everything else. Walk me through how you decided, “Hey, I think we’ll sue Trump.” There is so many things you could sue him on. Talk about how you thought about that from a business point of view.

Well, we’ve been working with conservation groups, like I said, for 30 years, and I think everyone saw it coming, that this was gonna happen. They were saying it wasn’t gonna happen. Zinke was doing this sham review where he was going to look at 26 national monuments in three months. And then they asked for public comment, and three million public comments come in and they’re all in support of the monuments. And then they just totally ignored them and cut the monuments.

Right, right.

I mean, it was unbelievable.

It’s such a shock coming from this administration for lying to happen, but go ahead. I’m sorry.

I know. We were working with native groups in the area, and friends groups that had protected these areas, and it just seemed the best path to go to do a lawsuit.

Where does it go? How do you sue the White House? What’s the mechanism?

We’re in court with other groups. I think they’re trying to get it moved to Utah right now. It’s in the D.C. court. I hope it stays in D.C. But, I mean, it’s a process. There’s a normal congressional process for changing boundaries of monuments, but they completely bypassed that.


If there would have been a vote in Congress they would have lost.

Right. All right. When that happened then you were attacked by the government to not buy your things. Talk about that.

Yeah, so something totally unprecedented happened. The National Resources Committee started attacking us and telling people to boycott us.

Explain this committee.

It’s the Natural Resources Committee, and it’s run by Rob Bishop, who is from Utah, who is funded by oil and gas. I mean, it’s pretty clear that this was oil, gas and uranium mining extraction. And they were mad that we did this campaign that said the president stole your land.

Right. And they said, “Don’t buy Patagonia gear.”

Yeah, so we have a government that’s basically attacking American companies. That’s what’s happening all the time. That’s what dictators do. That’s what despots do. We need to wake up and companies need to stand up.

Did it have an effect on your business? Sorry. Did it have an effect on your business?

It had a positive effect on our business.

Okay. Meaning people bought more?

Yeah, we’re gonna have the best year ever, Kara.

Okay, good. Really you should say thank you to Donald Trump for that.

Yeah, no, I’m not gonna say that, but ...

Okay, all right. It’s similar to what he’s doing to Amazon right now, correct?

Yeah. I mean, he’s attacking American companies that don’t agree with him. I think it’s despicable. Business needs to stand up. They can’t be quiet. This is what makes me mad about the tech companies right now.

Right. All right. Well, talk about that, because that’s where I come from.


Explain your weenie concept.

Yeah. Look, these guys, what’s Zuckerberg worth? 60 billion? What’s Larry Page worth? A hundred billion? I don’t know, we’re talking about billions of dollars.


They’ve made so much money off this platform. I don’t know. I have family in the military that fight for this country, and that’s our democracy that’s at stake, and we got attacked, and we got attacked on their platforms, and they haven’t done anything about it. They won’t step up and explain the problem. They won’t come out and in plain English say what they’re doing about it, and it’s pathetic. That’s why I say they’re weenies.

I’d go back even further, though, and say ... One of the things I’ve been doing though is chastising them for doing this. Creating the platforms without a lot of responsibility. Creating them.


And I’ve tried different ways to get them to get the point. And so I’ve moved to doing superhero analogies because that’s the only thing they understand, is juvenile 12-year-old boy talk. And so one of the things I say is, “With great power comes great responsibility,” right? Which they’re like, “Oh, Spider-Man.” I’m, like, “Actually it’s Voltaire, but I’m not gonna go there with you. I’m gonna just stick with Spider-Man. We’ll stick with the “Spider-Man” movie. The part of having great responsibility is lost, seems lost, you know?


Why do you imagine that is? I mean, you run a company. What do you think happens there? Because they have so much. It’s so important to the economy, for one. It’s our one big area of innovation, one of our biggest areas of innovations. It’s run by three or four powerful companies.

Right, right. Yeah, I mean, you look at Twitter. I don’t think it’s just a Facebook problem, it’s a Twitter problem, it’s a Google problem. It’s anyone who is selling ads and has a platform that people use. And there was very pointed effort to divide our country with propaganda from a foreign country. And we’re seeing the effects of that all over the country now, right?


And you can’t call Facebook a community, and then say I’m the leader of this company but I have no responsibility to what happens in the community. You know? We think of our customers as our community. And if something’s going wrong or there is an issue, we’re all over that because that’s important to our brand, and it’s also important to our relationship with our customers.

Well, what’s interesting is if you ... I did an interview with Mark last week, and he said essentially that I have built this community. He kept saying the word community quite a bit. And he said, “But I don’t want to sit in my office in California and make decisions about the community.” And I kept saying, “But you built it.” And he goes, “That aside, I would like to say I don’t want responsibility. I don’t want to make value judgment.”

And I think it’s probably because they don’t want to make value judgments because value judgements are hard, and it makes you make choices. When you have your values you have to stick to, it requires you to piss people off. Whatever it is, you have to argue about them.


Let’s talk about the idea of that. Why does that not occur? I mean, Patagonia has been started like this, and a lot of companies talk about this issue. Do you think it’s just bullshit when these other companies are talking about it? What’s the difficulty in doing that and applying values? Or defining a set of values?

I think you have to have a guiding set of values. And I couldn’t recite the mission statement of Facebook. I don’t know what it is, to be honest.

To addict. No, it’s in Russian. You can’t read it. Sorry. Sorry. Come on.

I get that you don’t want to culturally influence how the platform is being used, but we’re really careful. If we go into distribution in a particular country, we make sure we kind of have that stuff figured out before we do that. We don’t just go, “Okay, it’s a free-for-all.” You know?


And that’s kind of what I feel has happened with Twitter and Facebook. It’s like, “Well, it’s a free-for-all and now it’s so complicated we can’t ...” And I just think there has been a real vacuum of leadership. I haven’t seen Jack Dorsey from Twitter stand up and talk about what’s going on. I mean, my American Express card knows the second someone has stolen my ID. They can’t figure out who is not a legitimate user? You know? That seems to me ... They have a lot of smart people over there, they should be able to figure that out. And they’ve said nothing about it. I don’t know what they’ve done. Whatever they’re doing they’re doing behind the scenes, and they’re not leading and talking about it.

Right. If you were running one of these companies — then I want to get into some of the other stuff you guys are doing — what would you do? What would be the first thing you’d do? I asked this of Tim Cooke. There’s a show on tonight on MSNBC.

I saw that, yeah.

And he said, “I wouldn’t have been there in the first place.” I wouldn’t have gotten myself into this situation, which was a great burn on Mark, which everyone is writing about. We talked about ... By the way, we talked about education, immigration and all kinds of important issues.


Everyone focused in on the cat fight in Silicon Valley. I asked him this. What would you do if you were Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey, Google, YouTube?

Well, if I was Mark, I obviously wouldn’t have come out and said this is all crazy the day after the election, and then not come out for months. I think he released a hostage video of himself three months later.

Yes, yeah. You know, it was an interesting, you should go watch the video, because he has a light like that you buy at IKEA, essentially.


That was sort of shining on him. And I actually texted him. Buy him a light. Buy him lighting. I think you have money.

Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, I think, I would not be afraid to shut down things that I felt were out of control.


Even if it was going to cost us money or ad revenue or whatever. I would have clamped down if we didn’t have control over something or we felt like something was way out of our control. And I think the community and your customers would have understood that, right?


After this huge thing happens — our country gets attacked — I think the customers would have been like, “Okay, that makes me feel like you’ve got it. You’re doing something about it, or you don’t have it all figured out.”

Right, so shut it down?

I would have shut down the things that I felt like were ... Same thing with Twitter. And I think it’s a cultural thing. I think that I would have communicated with a lot more transparency about what was known and what was not known. Right after the election, I would have gone up to the Hill and talked about ... And honestly, Kara, that community of rich, smart, most of them are guys, should have come together and said, “This is what we’re gonna do about this problem, because we’re all facing it and we need to fix it because our democracy is at stake.”


We’re gonna take a quick break now for a word from our sponsors. We’ll be back in a minute with Rose Marcario, the CEO of Patagonia.


Let’s talk about that idea of leadership, or what it means to be a leader going forward, because a lot of the stuff that’s coming in terms of jobs, it’s a big interest of mine. Jobs, automation, robotics, AI is gonna change the way we work. But I’d love to hear from you where you think work is going and some of the things you all are investing in. I’m interested in the food stuff, which we’ll talk about.

Yeah. Yeah.

And by the way, we’re gonna get some questions from the audience. There is some things here, so please ask questions. Don’t sit there and not ask questions, because this is an amazing CEO to talk to. Talk about being a leader, what it takes going forward? What are the things you’re thinking about as a business leader?

Well, we’re thinking about how to save the planet, I mean, with our business, so we’re thinking about galvanizing our community. We just launched this thing called Patagonia Action Works, which we’ve been giving to grassroots environmental organizations for 30 years. And they’re really small groups. They’re local. They’re in your communities. Because a lot of what people were saying to me after the election was like, “What can I personally do?” We created this digital platform in-house where people can volunteer. They can be matched to volunteer for these organizations and start to understand the issues that are really local to them. Like, protection of air, water and soil, because with Scott Pruitt at the head of the EPA we’re going to have a lot of problems with ...

Well, for another few hours.

Yeah, well, yeah.

I love how we’re all, like, “Oh, I wonder if he’ll make it.” Not seeing this reality show, but he’s gonna be walking out, and ...

I don’t know. You need to get really involved in your local communities because your water supplies are getting compromised. Your air quality is getting compromised, and you need to get involved at a really detailed level in your communities. And that’s why we built Patagonia Action Works, and it’s a digital community, and it’s a digital community of activists for the environment.

You also have a venture fund, correct?

We do, yeah.

And that’s focused on eco-friendly? Or?

Yeah, it’s focused on companies that are solving the environmental crisis through business, and it also helps in developing supply chains because the expensive thing is developing new supply chains. I mean, we’re using the resources of almost two planets right now. If China and India consumes at the rate that we’re all consuming, then we’ll be using the resources of five planets. It’s game over, I mean, for human beings, or big mammals, and we’re big mammals as Yvon likes to say. We need to do something about it, and business could do it. Business could be the transformational change, but it requires leadership and people to step up. And that’s what kind of concerns me about all this money and value that has been created in the tech industry, but I don’t ... Everybody is just worrying about self-driving cars, and AI.

Do you have a problem with self-driving cars?

I don’t know. I like driving my car, but you know.

Okay. It is more eco-friendly to have self-driving cars. It is, actually.

Yeah, I don’t have a problem with it, but it’s sort of like there are really big problems. And most of them are supply chain problems. Like, renewables, and ... Yeah.

Talk about that. And I’m gonna get into people also asking, and then also ask more questions, just one sec. You’re also doing renewables of your clothing?

Yeah, we take responsibility for our product from end to end. We have a repair center in Reno, Nevada, where we repair, and we also repair in our stores. If your jacket gets torn or whatever, we’ll repair it.

And then we also have a marketplace to sell used clothing. We’ll take your used clothing back, and if it’s totally worn out we’ll recycle it. We do take responsibility for a product from end to end, which I think the younger consumer, they want you to be responsible for your product in that way. We’re doing that. And we’re not gonna have virgin materials after a certain time because there won’t be anymore stuff.


And anymore stuff to extract.

You gotta get good at this.

Yeah, we gotta get good at these new supply chains. That’s kind of what I see in terms of the future because the new economy ...

What are you most worried about as a leader running a company now?

Right now?


Oh, I mean, I think that the overall quarterly mentality of — and I say this having been a CFO who worked to get quarterly results — and I think it’s a disaster. I think it’s gonna kill us if we. Nothing happens quarterly. You know?

Mm-hmm. Right.

And there’s this obsession around quarterly results, and I feel like it’s gonna, if we don’t change that as business people. And whenever I talk to CEO of big companies, I tell them go after that. That’s the important thing. We have to start thinking long term. We need to think in longer time frames so we don’t destroy the planet in the short term. And so I think that’s a big part of it. We need to change the way ... We don’t need to dismantle capitalism, I think capitalism is great, but it needs to change and evolve because our world is changing and evolving.

Are you optimistic that will happen?

Yeah, I mean ...

That’s a no, right?

No. You know what? I feel really optimistic about these generations that are coming up.

I agree.

Because they’re not so entrenched in the status quo, and they’re really smart and have a lot of information at their fingertips.


Look at what happened at Parkland. I was standing in front of my television crying because these activists were so articulate. I thought, “I could never be that articulate at 15.”

Yeah, yeah. One of things ... Then we’ll get to the question segment. One of my favorite parts is watching them dismantle old people on the internet. I think Charlie Daniels says, “Son, let me tell you,” and he’s on Twitter. And I’m like, “Oh my god. Charlie Daniels, stop. This kid is gonna kill you,” and then the kid killed him. I was, like, “Don’t. Stay away. They’re real good at this social media stuff.”

Yeah, and the idea of the hierarchical structure is gone. And some people don’t really get that.

No, they swarm. They’re good at swarming. They’re good at memes. But it’s so enjoyable to watch Ted Nugent sit there like, “What?” You know?

Yeah, out of touch.

Out of touch. Yeah, exactly. Question, right here.

Natalia: Hi, Rose.


Natalia: Hi, I’m Natalia. I’m part of the German Bavarian delegation, and we organize the first European FitTech summit in Munich, in July, where maybe this might be a good platform for you to spread your ideas. And so my actual question is you are one of the leaders who acknowledges the importance of mindfulness and meditation and Buddhist practices. How do you think ... can mindfulness change the leadership practices worldwide? What should we do about that?

Yeah, I’m doing Headspace right now.


Natalia: Do you use any apps?

I think it’s ... A lot of people are using it in the workplace now. It’s a very personal decision. Honestly, I feel kind of strange talking about it because it’s such a personal thing, but take away the idea of mindfulness and think about responsibility, and I think we all need to be responsible for what’s going on right now. I was listening to Christiane Amanpour talk, and she said, “Democracy has grown fat and lazy.” It’s so important to engage in civil society, and that to me feels like what people need to do, and that’s a mindful thing to do.

Natalia: Thank you.

Do you have that at your company? Do you offer that? Or? A lot of companies are doing that now.

Yeah, I mean, people do. We let Patagonia people do whatever they want to do. They can surf. They can have a meditation group. They can do whatever they want.

Right, but as part of a corporate policy?

We don’t have corporate policies about things like that.

Okay. All right. They don’t. You don’t do anything?

We don’t have many corporate policies, Kara.

All right. Okay. All right. I’m working at Patagonia. Sorry.

Matt Volm: Hey there, Rose, my name is Matt Volm. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Tali. We’re building a voice-driven time tracking application on Amazon Alexa. I am a first-time founder along with the other two guys on my team. So, as a wonderful leader, I’m wondering what’s the last mistake you made as a leader? Or what’s the biggest learning you have over your career, that myself, my team and I think all the early founders here could learn from? And hopefully use as we march forward down our entrepreneurial path.

Yeah, that’s a great question. I ask all of the people I do on my podcast that question.

I’m not a founder. Yvon is a founder. And I’ve asked him this question before.

No, but I want to know your mistakes.

I’ll get to it. I want to also. This is really good advice.

All right.

Which is that you make sure that you don’t promote someone who is not ready to be promoted. That’s probably the biggest mistake he would say he’s made. Now he’s said that to me, and he promoted me to CEO, so ... For me it was as becoming CEO, it was underestimating the responsibility of being a leader, and how much people really look at your actions every minute of every day. And it took me a long time to really ...

That your voice is loudest in the room.

Yeah, it took me a while to get that. I don’t know if that’s because women are kind of conditioned to not do that. Although, I’ve never really followed that.

Yeah, you don’t seem shy to me.


But that is an important thing, is that you didn’t assert yourself in the way that you ...

No, I feel like I didn’t realize how much employees were looking at me to set the tone and the leadership. And you have to spend time doing that. You have to spend time explaining why you’re gonna go take that hill, and why it’s important.

Right, and also that you’re not on the same level, presumably, because I think a lot of people say we’re all the same, but it’s really not true. Correct? Or not?

I don’t feel that way about my employees. I feel like we’re all a team.

But you’re the leader.

Yeah, for sure.


And I feel a great responsibility in that.

Women leaders always have to get asked this, about how they are as a woman leader, but how did the ... When the #MeToo thing, obviously, is still ongoing. There was just another appalling story about Richard Meier in the ... And then there was one at the Justice Department. There’s so many. What did you think of when this all started to emerge? Even though women knew it forever.

Yeah, I was listening to all the stories and listening to women share their stories, and it made me very ... You know, think about my own life and the kinds of experiences that I had. And I thought it was ... I was blown away by how much Hollywood was sort of ... how bad it was.


Like, Salma Hayek’s piece where she said he threatened to kill her or something. I mean, it was so out of hand, and so terrible. I think I just felt a lot of empathy for it. I think that it needs to be said. It’s ...

Have you had that happen? Did you have an experience?

I had an experience, and I never thought of it that way, but then I heard someone talking, and I thought I think that’s kind of what happened. I was very young, and the person was a lot older.

A sexual harassment thing?


But I think a lot of them are more subtle.

It was subtle, yeah.

Yeah. And not necessarily sexual harassment, it’s a sex remark, which is interesting. I’ll never forget when I came back from being pregnant, and I had broken all the stories before I left. And one of the main ... a top editor at the Wall Street Journal said, “Now you’ll need more time.” And I said, “For what?” And they’re like, “Uh.” And I go, “What do I need more time for? Why do I need more time now?” And they were like, “Uh.” I said, “Because it can’t be because I had a baby, because that would be sexist.” And he was like, “Uh.” I go, “Because you’ve had many children, right? And did you need more time?” It was ...

Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah.

It was a really awkward and awful conversation, and I made it as awkward and awful as possible, but it was an interesting ... Oh, it was good.

Well, it’s funny, we offer onsite childcare, and the founders started it 30 years ago. We have total gender parity in our company, 50 percent women, 50 percent men. And I think that is because we have onsite childcare. And women were allowed to kind of continue their careers. And when I worked in Silicon Valley they had foosball tables and cappuccino machines and ping pong tables, but there was no comfortable place for a nursing mother to nurse.

Right. Right. That’s exactly true.

That says something about Silicon Valley, that there isn’t an onsite childcare.

Some places they have it. There’s more and more as they’re having children.


But you’re right. It’s not the first. The foosball tables are critical to ... They also have slides, you know?

Oh, okay. Well, I haven’t been there in a while.

Yeah. First time, when I got to Silicon Valley, this was a while ago, they had a slide and they said, I’ll never forget this they go, “Go down the slide.” I think it was at Excite. Excite, you remember that company?

Yeah, yeah.

No, you don’t. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it company, and they had hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. And they chose to use their money to build a slide. And so they go, “Kara, ride the slide.” From the second to the first floor, and I said, “No, I’m not riding your slide.” And they’re like, “Everybody rides the slide.” I said, “I’m not riding your fucking slide. I’m an adult. I didn’t like slides at 8, I’m not gonna like them at 40.” And it was this long discussion about my lack of ability to ride a slide, which was interesting.

We’re gonna take another break from a word from our sponsors. We’ll be back with Patagonia’s CEO Rose Marcario after this.


Let’s talk about, finish talking about, a little bit about — we’ve just got a few minutes, any other questions from the audience, please avail yourself to Rose — the food thing you’re doing.


You sell jackets, which is your biggest? Right?


Puffy sweaters, essentially.


You sell equipment and things like that. Talk about the food thing. What are you doing with the food?

Well, in 2012 we started a food company called Patagonia Provisions because Yvon and I were ... Yvon has always been interested in food, and he’s kind of, he’s tried to do it a few times, but ... We felt like the biggest thing we can do for the environment is work on food and agriculture, because the reality is industrialized agriculture has created an incredible amount of damage, especially in the U.S., because it’s mostly chemical agriculture. And organic agriculture is sort of being co-opted by people who don’t care to keep the standards high. We’re kind of in there to agitate and educate and keep innovating in that space and build supply chains. And it might be the best hope also for climate change and sequestration of carbons. If we transform everything to organic regenerative agricultural practices and get away from chemical and industrial practices we could basically sequester, according to Rodale Institute, 100 percent of our CO2 emissions.

It’s pretty exciting. The scary part is that three chemical companies own 75 percent of all the seed, and all the pesticides. We’re kind of ... People feel held hostage by them, and we’re gonna try and create — capital create — a certification, and create a business environment where the good players can thrive.

You’re selling the food in order to create the business?

Yeah, and we’re working on creating certifications that can help farmers kind of evolve their practices and things like that.

But the things you’re selling are mostly for camping? Correct? Or?

They’re mostly shelf stable stuff right now. And now we’re kind of rolling out more products, yeah.

What do you imagine, do you want to be a grocery store? Or?

I don’t know what the right distribution model is because we probably wouldn’t have big-format grocery stores. But, yeah, I mean, we’re ... What we really want to do is bring the organic industry together to help solve some of these problems, because right now it’s the big chemical companies that have the biggest voice in Washington. Just like the big oil companies have the biggest voice on public lands and drilling. The outdoor industry is a huge industry, but we don’t spend any money on lobbying. And the oil industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

What’s interesting is that, I guess, REI has more members than the NRA by far.


But doesn’t do anything.

No. Our industry really came together on public lands. I mean, I had our business competitor, the North Face sitting next to me. REI, and we were calling the governor of Utah together. I think that’s ... That to me is leadership. It’s what I wish we’d see more of from the tech world.

Right. I wanna finish up talking about ... I wanna get back to that. When you think about where you guys sell in your stores, how many stores do you have?

We have about, well, it depends on whether you include single brands, but say around the world about 150.

Is that gonna be the way you’re gonna sell your goods going forward?

We’re selling a lot online.

Online. Yeah.

Our fastest-growing business is our online business.

Talk about that, because you have Amazon, sort of.

We don’t sell on Amazon. There’s a lot of gray market on Amazon, or resellers on Amazon, but we don’t want them to have our data, and we don’t really believe in the algorithmic model where I think they do 800,000 price changes a day, or something. And they keep trying to push people down to the lowest price.

And that’s what is happening to organic since they got Whole Foods. It’s, like, they just keep pushing these small organic brands to lower their prices and lower their prices. And I talked to a lot of them, I went to Expo West, which is the biggest foods show. And a lot of these CEOs of these brands were telling me, “It’s not worth it for me to be on Amazon, because they just keep calling me and telling me to lower my price.” Now they’re thinking about different models, and I think that will evolve.

What are the different models if it’s not ... because Amazon has ...

Well, I think it’s other marketplaces. If I had an alternative to Facebook to keep in touch with my relatives back East, I would be using it right now. Right?

It’s called a letter, but okay.

Yeah, or email. Yeah, I agree. But it’s sort of, like, if there was a viable alternative, I think I would be using it now, just based on how the companies have responded. I think creating viable alternatives, and new markets ...

To your distribution, where do you imagine you’ll be selling your goods in 10 years?

Well, we’re expanding a lot internationally — because we’ve been in the U.S. for 45 years. We’re expanding a lot internationally, and we’re taking our value system there. And we’re getting involved in local environmental activism and issues, yeah.

Continuing to do the way you do. But online, or ...

Yeah, and I think our food business could end up being just as big as our apparel business or bigger in the coming years.

Right. Last question, and then again is there any? There’s a question over here first from the audience. Over here, go ahead.

Questioner 2: Hi, I have a question for both of you. I was wondering if you might be able to give some advice to young women who may be considering a career in tech? And I think that you’ve raised a couple of points that are really challenging in the sense that you’re both so prominent in your industries, but do you see value in having more women join the big companies that we’re sort of talking about when we’re talking about Silicon Valley’s monolithic power concentrated in large companies. What advice would you give to women who are considering joining those companies to change from within? Or do you think it’s better to go and start your own thing? And be independent in that way as you’ve so successfully done?

You first.

Oh, I think that you can make a lot of change inside of a big company. If you’re willing to speak up and galvanize and evangelize. I think you can. I mean, it’s harder for sure, but I do think it’s possible, and healthy to do that. And I know I did it in the big companies I was at. I was oftentimes the only woman in the room, and I think I helped change some things just by offering a different point of view and talking about what was missing that should have been there. And, yeah, so I think it’s possible. I do think it’s possible to change.

Yeah, because you stayed in those companies.


I do not think that. I think that you have to be your own boss. I left a very good job at the Wall Street Journal because I hated being an employee. I was a bad employee. I thought the people I worked for, largely white guys, not because they were white guys, and by the way I have two sons who are very lovely white guys. I just didn’t want to be their employee, and I thought they were stupid. And so you can’t live like that. You know what I mean?

Yeah. Yeah.

Going home, “I’m working for such idiots.” And so I decided to start my own thing because I felt like if you’re the boss you can make decisions. And that you can make mistakes, and you can make errors, and everything else, but you have to ... If you’re the boss it goes on you. Especially about how you’re going to do things. Everything from ...

When I was at the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post, both great. Well, not the Wall Street Journal, but the Washington Post is a great newspaper. Used to be a great newspaper, the Wall Street Journal. You could make your own decisions, and they would be very snipey at many ... This is a stupid journalism thing, but people fight between each other for turf inside of a thing, so I could just make a rule we’re not doing that, all the reporters share. And I literally had a young reporter come to me the other day, “I’ve never worked at somewhere where everybody cooperates,” and it was just because we said so.

Yeah. Yeah.

Whatever we want to say happens, and I think that’s one good thing. The other part is I just don’t care for other people’s opinions. I don’t know. I don’t know. I just don’t. And so it’s just, I don’t want to come to a group decision and then not be able to make the decision. You know, what I think.

Yeah, yeah.

I think women do not take ... Become the boss. Being the boss is a really good thing, and women do not as much. They just do not. It’s simply, simple as that. And so if you run things, you can do things, you can get things to happen. That’s ... I feel like that happens, I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m just a bad employee. If you’re a bad employee, be a boss. You could be the boss of you.

All right, we’re gonna finish up. We’re almost done here, Rose. Talk about where you think, because again, as I said, one of the big things to me is all these big technology changes are coming, are massive, massive, massive, massive. When you think about how you’re gonna have an impact, do you think about running for public office? Do you think, what is the best way for people to have impact now? Besides being loud on Twitter.

It’s really, are you talking about just generally people?

Just general.

I think that, yeah, we’re already seeing like a lot of people who wouldn’t normally have been running for office are running for office and they’re doing really well. They’re speaking the truth and they’re being fearless, and that’s really inspiring to me to see that. I think we’re seeing younger people get more engaged in civil society around voting. If young people just voted we’d have a much better world if people engaged in that way. You know?

Right, and what about, have you ever thought about running for office?

I think I would be a terrible politician.

Why? Anybody can do it now, apparently. Again, the truth, but go ahead.

I just, I think I’m better at doing what I do.

Well, what would you do if you weren’t doing this?

I would probably be writing and doing other things. Yeah.

Do you regret not becoming a Buddhist nun?

Sometimes, yeah.

What is that job?

But now I don’t.

What is the job of a Buddhist nun?

Because I have a great girlfriend now, so ...

All right, okay. All right. Are Buddhist nuns not allowed to marry?

Yeah, they’re not.

Oh, okay. I didn’t know.

Depending on the, yeah. Depending on the ...

I’m not up on my Buddhist nun information, I’m sorry.

It’s all right, Kara.

That’s okay, but you wouldn’t do that? Would you do anything else?

Like, what’s next after Patagonia? My god, I ...

Yeah. What would you do if you weren’t doing this?

Yeah, I don’t know.

The writing?

Yeah, I think I’d be writing. I really have been very involved in the benefit corporation movement, and I would really like to see ...

What is that?

It’s the idea that business has a responsibility to people and the planet, and it’s a legal designation. A lot of companies are becoming B-corps. There’s probably some in the room right now. Yeah, and it’s really exciting. It’s kind of a grassroots movement around what the new capitalism and new economy can be, and I’m super excited about that because you need an alternative to the quarterly madness, and I like it. I think it’s good.

Okay, and then last thing. Are you optimistic? Pessimistic? How would you describe your mood right now?

I feel really energized by ... Just, I think there’s so much energy, good energy galvanized right now, activist energy, and activist energy changes the world. You just have to look at it historically and you can see that it’s true. And some fights take a long time. I mean, Yvon and Malinda, our founders, have been fighting these environmental battles for 46 years. And they win some, they lose some. It’s just part of it. You have to just keep going, and you have to keep focused on it.

And so, yeah, I’m optimistic that we have a lot more tools, technology tools, community tools now. We’re not licking stamps and phone banking like we were years ago. And I think, yeah, we’re excited about this new Action Works platform because we’re seeing tons of engagement. Lots of volunteer hours, people giving money to these organizations, and real engagement. I’m excited about that. I think that can be real exciting and scale. The right brands that do the right thing will win in the end, I think.

Great, Rose.

Thank you, Kara, it was fun.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.