We made another important change in the early 1980s. At a time when all outdoor products were either beige, fir green or, when the going gets tough, light blue, we bathed the Patagonia line in bold colors and brought out cobalt blue, emerald green, bright red, aloe green, mint and mocha-colored products on the market. Patagonia apparel was as tough as ever, but now it came in bold colors.
With the sudden popularity of bold colors and the increasing interest in technical materials such as Synchilla, we took a new direction. In the meantime, the Patagonia brand had become just as much a fashion trend as the rugby shirt had been back then. Our level of awareness extended far beyond the outdoor scene to the fashion-oriented end consumer. We mostly used our sales campaign and our catalog to explain the technical advantages of the shift system to our core target group of outdoor enthusiasts, and we were also successful with our technical products. However, the bestselling products in our collection included those with the least technical demands – casual, wide board shorts and bomber-style sports jackets with synchilla lining.
Our company grew rapidly. Inc. Magazine topped us on their list of the Fastest Growing Privately Owned Companies. However, the rapid growth came to an end in the summer of 1991 when our sales collapsed during the recession and our banks, which were struggling with problems themselves at the time, demanded our loans back. To get rid of our debt, we had to drastically cut our costs and reduce inventory. We also had to lay off 20% of our employees – many of them friends and friends of friends. And we almost lost our independence as a company. That was a great lesson to us. Since then we have grown – and we are in debt – at a modest rate.
In many ways it was possible for us to maintain our corporate culture, even in the years of strong growth and also after the shock of the wave of layoffs in 1991. We were always surrounded by friends in our work and everyone could always wear what they wanted, even walking around barefoot. During the lunch break, the employees went running or surfing or played volleyball on the sand court behind the company building. R.