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Alumni Profile

Charlotte lands on her feet

overby

Charlotte Overby works at Patagonia in Ventura, Calif., putting out catalogs of high-end togs for outdoor activities. Photo by Tim Davis

Charlotte Overby grew up in Columbia and got a master’s degree in journalism in 1992 at Mizzou. For years it looked like she was going to be a lifer in Collegetown U.S.A. Creative and resourceful, Overby had a book-editing business, played acoustic bass in a band called The People’s Republic of Klezmerica, helped found the Ragtag Cinema and was a lead volunteer at Missouri River Relief. “I love Columbia. It’s the bellybutton of the universe,” Overby says.

But at the same time, she wanted to try living somewhere else. “I’d been trying to dynamite myself out of there for a decade,” says Overby, daughter of Osmund Overby, professor emeritus of art history and archaeology. All that changed a couple of years ago when she found her dream job in Ventura, Calif. Overby had never been interested in slogging through life in routine office conditions. “I am someone who didn’t thrive in ordinary working environments,” she says. “I chafed, got depressed.”

As it turns out, Ventura is known for two things other than its status as the Hell’s Angels’ base camp: It’s a great spot for surfing and, not coincidentally, it is the headquarters of Patagonia, a $270 million-a-year outdoor clothing business. At first she worked as a contractor producing Patagonia catalogs, which feature high-quality, pricey outdoor gear; well-written essays about the out-of-doors; and environmentalist messages. Patagonia, a model for how to do business in green fashion, gives 1 percent of sales or 10 percent of pre-tax profits (whichever is more) to environmental causes.

The working environment turned out to be a great fit. Patagonia is a famously hip and successful company. Employees work hard when they need to but, deadlines permitting, they can leave early when the surf is up to hit the beach. In addition to offering on-site daycare, the company has an organic café and a leave-of-absence policy that allows up to two months paid time off after a year of full-time service, which Overby began in January 2006. She had landed a permanent job at the company, which routinely gets 900 applications per job vacancy.

So, what does she do on those days that are just right for surfing? “I’m a Boone County, Missouri, girl. I’d like to be a surfer, but I mostly just flop around — great enthusiasm but no technique. I’m better at hiking and backpacking.”                             

— Dale Smith