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Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario is not afraid to get political

Marcario, who ranks No. 1 on Fast Company’s Queer 50 list, has overseen the expansion of Patagonia’s social and environmental commitments.

Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario is not afraid to get political
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This story is part of Fast Company‘s first-ever Queer 50 List. Click here to see the full list. 

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As president and CEO of outdoor clothing company Patagonia, Rose Marcario is not afraid to do things differently. Since joining the company in 2008, Marcario has not shied away from a political fight, or from expanding the company’s environmental and social commitments, including protecting public lands, providing on-site childcare for workers, and eliminating excess waste in packaging.

Marcario joined Patagonia in 2008, originally serving under founder Yvon Chouinard as CFO and COO, after a long career in finance. She was an executive VP at the investment firm Capital Advisers and served as CFO of the now-defunct Apple spinoff General Magic. In her time at Patagonia, she has helped make north of a billion dollars in revenue and scaled the company’s environmental conservation goals to new heights. In 2012, she was part of the leadership team that got Patagonia its B certification, which means that the company is required to protect the interests of employees, investors, and the environment.

Marcario’s job has changed drastically under the Trump administration. “My greatest challenge as CEO was living our mission and creating a vision that would carry the company into the next generation,” she says. “A lot of what we’ve held dear and fought for over the last 30 years has been really under assault with the current administration.” So she hasn’t steered away from making the private company overtly political. In 2017, she spearheaded Patagonia’s efforts to join a coalition of Native American and grassroots groups in suing the Trump administration after it announced plans to drastically cut down the size of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, claiming the move was illegal.

The company also recently filed an Amicus Brief challenging the rollback of the Clean Power Plan. And in 2018, under her leadership, Patagonia endorsed two Democratic candidates who supported the protection of public lands, Nevada senator Jacky Rosen and Senator John Tester of Montana. (Both won their races.)

Patagonia is even tackling problems in agriculture and the food supply chain that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus. Overseeing Patagonia Provisions, the company’s sustainable food company, is what Marcario has been most excited about this past year. “It’s really about changing … from chemical agriculture to regenerative organic agriculture. I’m really excited about creating a food system that works for everybody.” The sustainable food business aims to reduce the environmental toll of the food system by adopting best practices in sourcing to repair the food chain.

On March 13, as coronavirus began spreading through the country, Patagonia was one of the first retailers in North America to close its e-commerce and retail operations entirely. And despite the fact that other retailers, including Gap and Banana Republic, have begun to open their stores as states ease lockdown restrictions, Patagonia has said that it will not open for in-store shopping until June at the earliest, and may even wait until later in the fall to ensure customer and worker safety.”We’re going to be cautious about the way we open up—we’re not going to necessarily follow what the state decrees are,” Marcario told The New York Times. (Some stores did begin offering curbside pickup on May 20.)

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The retailer reorganized its distribution center in Nevada and has been experimenting with technology to minimize checkout lines, according to the Times. When the company furloughed 80% of its retail staff for three months, it ensured that they could retain their healthcare benefits.

While most of her activism is concentrated on furthering her company’s ecological and social goals, Marcario has also long been active in L.A.’s LGBTQIA theater community, as well as volunteering at the city’s Gay and Lesbian Center. She has been an actor and a theater director and producer. “While I have less time to volunteer than I used to, I do a lot of philanthropy around filmmaking, literary projects, and theater,” she says.

She cites the 1982 sports drama Personal Best, starring Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly, as a personal favorite. “When I took a break between my private equity job and working at Patagonia, I actually produced a musical about a lesbian relationship,” she says. “I think it’s still really important for queer people to see themselves reflected in culture and art.”

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