Coronavirus Diaries From the C-Suite

I’m Running My Multimillion-Dollar Business Out of My Car Because of Coronavirus

American Giant’s Bayard Winthrop on how the pandemic has upended the apparel manufacturer, from cutting costs to converting factories

Courtney Rubin
Marker
Published in
7 min readMar 25, 2020

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American Giant CEO Bayard Winthrop working on his laptop out of his truck with his 3-month-old puppy.
Photo: Alice Roche

Coronavirus Diaries From the C-Suite is a new Marker series where leaders share how the pandemic is impacting their businesses.

Eight years ago, when Bayard Winthrop founded American Giant, a San Francisco-based manufacturer of T-shirts, hoodies, and other apparel, he never imagined he would be running the business out of his car. But with the coronavirus lockdown, that’s where things are right now for the 50-year-old CEO. Partly because of the chaos created by having three children—ages 3, 5, and 9—now at home, Winthrop is working out of his Tacoma pickup truck, parked in front of his house in the Castro so he can tether to his home Wi-Fi. (His three-month-old puppy, Dash, is often with him in the passenger seat.) His main focus is preserving as much cash as possible as sales slide for American Giant, which employs more than 120 people at its corporate headquarters, two cutting and sewing plants in North Carolina, and retail stores in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He’s also busy converting his factories to make medical masks. Here he shares what life has been like at his company since the pandemic hit.

— As told to Courtney Rubin

WWhen the news about coronavirus started breaking in China, I had this vague sense of worry. Pretty soon we started discussing what-ifs, and little by little began to ramp up plans. I’ve frankly been so flat-out the last few weeks that I don’t remember exact timing.

Probably four weeks ago we began to communicate to our staff that we needed to be vigilant with hand-washing, because San Francisco is one of the major points of entry of people coming in from China. Then we started lifting work-from-home guidelines in our corporate office so people could work from home if they wanted — it used to require manager’s approval. Then we made it mandatory to work from home, and eventually there was a quarantine in San Francisco.

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