It all began with a book and a road trip.  Patti Cazzato, CEO of iconic global lifestyle brand Timbuk2, started blazing the trail to success after college graduation, when she read that the best careers for women were on the West Coast. She’d never been to California before, but she felt that the region’s pioneering spirit and sense of possibility matched her own so she packed up her car and drove to San Francisco, staying in a hotel until she found an apartment and job. Once there she parlayed her vision for eco-sustainability all the way to the top. The rest of the story is the stuff of career legend. 

PHOTO BY EVAN SIGMUND, PHOTOGRAPHED ON LOCATION AT THE HYATT REGENCY, SARASOTA


Much has been written about her accomplishments and more yet about the fact that she is the first female CEO of the company in an industry where only 3% of women reach C-suite positions. But Cazzato is not interested in having her accomplishments defined by any one factor.  When presented with the SRQ Trailblazer Award at the recent SRQ  Women in Business Leadership Luncheon, she stepped up to the podium and said, “When I became CEO, all the press wanted to talk about was my gender. But I have to tell you, I may be a CEO and I may be a woman, but ultimately I was the best person for the job. It didn’t really have anything to do with being a woman.” 

She has indeed proven to be not only the “right” person for the job, but the absolute perfect fit for a single mission. It was a personal calling that led her to the sweet spot in her career but, had it not been for one of the greatest challenges of her life, Cazzato may not have ended up in the ideal place for her to accomplish her ultimate objective, “to take care of the Earth, our home, so that my children and their children’s children can survive. My life goal is to help sustain this earth as much as I can, for as long as I’m inhabiting it.”

Early in her career she was inspired by Doug and Susie Tompkins of Esprit and The North Face, eco-visionaries and pioneers who encouraged employees to take personal responsibility for the environment. Their vision mirrored her own and, coupled with her entrepreneurial spirit, inspired her to leave the corporate world to start her own company. She notes,  “A quote that encapsulates my mantra in life, from Doug himself, reads: ‘People have to free their imaginations and realize everyone can do something, on a large or a small scale, depending on their ability. Those who can do a lot because of their position and potential should jump right in there.’”

So she did. In 2007, Cazzato launched her own company, Clary Sage Organics, an eco-friendly hand-sewn yoga apparel company and holistic wellness center built upon sustainable manufacturing and business practices. With Clary Sage, Cazzato combined three of her biggest passions—the environment, yoga and fashion—and the future looked bright. “I was coming off of working for strong businesses and was climbing the ladder quickly,” she says. “So when we first opened the store, I had no reason to think that my company may or may not work—I’d put in all the hard work to ensure Clary Sage was going to be a success.” But all that hard work could not have prevented what came next. The markets crashed a few months after opening and every single one of Clary Sage’s investors pulled out. Cazzato made the difficult decision to self-finance the company for seven years, putting her family through significant financial strain. “Anybody that has their own company, I get it. It is really one of the hardest things you can do,” she says. “And it was my truth, right? My truth was I had to have this sustainable company. It didn’t make it till the end, we lasted seven years but we ran out of capital.”

She says that the challenge and day-to-day fight made her work that much harder and taught her a valuable lesson about resilience and bouncing back. After her company closed, she met with some venture capitalists who told her something she wouldn’t soon forget. “When we deal with women and they fail, they consider themselves failures and they don’t go back into the work world. They just shut down a little bit,” they said. “But when we work with men that fail, they just pop back up and are like, “Where’s my next company?”  Bruised but not beaten, Cazzato was not about to shut down or give up. “We’re all going to have setbacks,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of setbacks personally as well as professionally, but I never lost sight of my course. 

“There’s a reason setbacks are occurring, and there’s a message in those setbacks. You just have to get your confidence back very quickly. Feel sorry for yourself for a little bit—it’s okay—but get your confidence back. What’s imperative is to align yourself with your life’s passion and keep exploring the things that force you to reach further. But most importantly: keep moving forward.” Cazzato went looking for a new opportunity that would provide her with the opportunity to utilize her talents and fulfill her calling to earth stewardship. And she found it in Timbuk2.  She met with the chairman of the board and he said, “What do you want out of this job?” Cazzato answered, “I want to leave a legacy around sustainability.” In 15 minutes, he threw down an offer. “No one answers the question like that,” he said. “That’s exactly what I want.” 

Founded in 1989 in a San Francisco garage by a bike messenger, the innovative company is dedicated to sustainable manufacturing, every bag has a lifetime warranty and nothing goes to landfill. “The ever-growing trend of sustainability has always been at the forefront of my vision,” notes Cazzato. “Timbuk2, being a forerunner in local manufacturing, has been a pioneer of sustainability since the company’s inception, and it is what allows me to pursue my larger goal of saving the planet. It’s an amazing company and it spoke to me personally.”

Cazzato joined the company in 2014, its 25th year, and ushered in a new age of expansion, working to take the company’s product innovation and sustainable manufacturing to a wider audience by launching new collections, expanding the brand into new domestic and international markets, and fostering an ever-more ardent dedication to sustainability. “One goal of mine when I began at Timbuk2 was to expand our women’s offerings, taking our tried and true functionality and implementing that into a sophisticated women’s bag,” she says, and, on June 1, the company debuted its latest collaboration with eco-conscious designer and philanthropist, Phoebe Dahl, a project over a year in the making. “This is a project that I’m particularly proud of,” she says, “because it perfectly meshes my passion for Timbuk2 with my passion for sustainable fashion.” While she is expanding the brand’s footprint, she makes it clear she didn’t come on board to reinvent the wheel. “This brand is truly authentic,” she says. “When you assume responsibility for a brand, you can either lean further into its heritage, or you can push away from the original vision. So with everything that I do as the CEO, I make sure it’s true to the brand’s history.”

Cazzato’s passion for her company is palpable and you sense she believes you cannot separate who you are and what you are trying to achieve personally from what you do all day. “Everyone will say follow your passion, but think about your truth,” she says. “What is it that takes you to a place of getting out of bed every morning with a smile on your face? Your personal and professional paths are so intertwined, you must pursue what truly drives you. In working for brands that have a higher purpose, you realize that it all carries much more meaning than just selling product. I’m passionate about building and growing brands with an eye to sustainability and eco-consciousness. At Timbuk2, I am able to do it all.”

When asked her advice for other women pursuing their dreams, she says,“Be fearlessly optimistic, and have a good time.”