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Patagonia Lays Off 81 Employees in Ventura : Economy: The clothing manufacturer blames the recession and growth expectations that ran too high.

July 03, 1991|ADRIANNE GOODMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia Inc. announced Tuesday that it is laying off 81 employees, or nearly 20% of its Ventura work force.

Officials at Patagonia, considered to be among Ventura County's most aggressive environmental companies, blamed the layoffs on the recession and growth expectations that ran too high. One month ago, Patagonia, the city's fourth-largest employer, laid off 19 employees.

"It's a recognition that we tried to grow too fast as a company," spokesman Kevin Sweeney said. "We had projected much larger growth, but we finally realized what the ceiling is. The market has told us not to grow."

Workers laid off Tuesday included managers, cafeteria workers, sales representatives, pattern makers and distribution workers. Product development and management were hit hardest, Sweeney said.

In Ventura, where Patagonia has been one of the major employers, city officials reacted with gloom.

"That's depressing news," Ventura City Councilman Gary Tuttle said. "I hate to hear it when any company lays off people. It's tough all over. We're all getting clobbered by this recession."

Calling Patagonia one of the city's top employers, Ventura Mayor Richard Francis said the layoffs were "awful news, but it's not unique. We're in a recession. The greatest sympathy goes to the folks who have to figure out where their rent is coming from next month."

The mood was subdued at the company's West Santa Clara Street offices Tuesday afternoon. Many of the laid-off employees had left work about midday, shortly after receiving the news. One group headed to the beach and another to a nearby restaurant, but many went home, Sweeney said.

Patagonia officials said the company will help the laid-off employees, who received 10-day notices, put together resumes and prepare for job interviews. They will also receive at least four weeks of severance pay, plus a week's pay for every year that they have worked for the company, officials said.

On Tuesday, some of the remaining workers huddled and whispered in small groups.

"We're grieving," said Mary Taylor, vice president for administration. "The idea that we're losing people we care about, that they're no longer going to be a part of our everyday lives, is sad."

The gloom extended to the company's on-site child development center, said Anita Garaway, director of family services. "There was a lot of anxiety and feelings of sadness, and the children reacted very dramatically," she said, citing crying and aggressive behavior in the nursery.

"It's a bummer," said security and custodial coordinator Tom Novickas. "We're losing a lot of really good people who are not only committed to their day-to-day jobs but to the environment."

Patagonia, a subsidiary of Lost Arrow Corp., is laying off a total of 120 employees, including workers in Patagonia's offices in Bozeman, Mont., Japan and Europe, Sweeney said. Patagonia has 621 employees worldwide, including 446 in Ventura.

The cutbacks will reduce the company to the size it was about two years ago, Sweeney said. About 55% of the company's clothing is made in the United States, he said, but none is made in Ventura.

Patagonia had projected sales increases of 51% last fall, but the growth was only 31%. Sales increases for the last quarter of 1990 and the first quarter of this year were also down, officials said.

Sweeney said the company will still contribute to political candidates and hopes to remain a county pioneer in providing child care. The company has made major contributions to elected officials countywide, including Tuttle and County Supervisor Maria VanderKolk.

Sweeney said the company's efforts in those two areas will not be affected by the layoffs.

"The issue is trying to find the right size for the company," Sweeney said. "Issues like child care, the commitment to the environment--those things don't change."

Patagonia expects to donate more than $1 million to environmental causes this year.

Patagonia's sales this year are expected to be about $120 million, officials said.

Times staff writer Tina Daunt contributed to this story.

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