The week of March 16 was the toughest in Raleigh Denim Workshop’s 12-year history.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the North Carolina-based denim brand lost almost all of its wholesale orders and was forced to close its store and lay off most of its staff.
“It is an unprecedented time,” said co-founder and designer Victor Lytvinenko, who just one month ago was photographed visiting the Vidalia Mills in Louisiana and excitedly promoting U.S.-made selvedge denim.
Fast forward to the present day, and his pared-down team has shifted its focus solely to relief efforts for the community. It began with mask making, as Lytvinenko needed something positive to work on during the challenging times. He developed several mask prototypes and posted a photo on Instagram on March 22 asking for feedback from members of the medical community who needed them most.
“[That photo got] the most engagement of any post ever,” said Lytvinenko, pointing to the 1,976 likes and 180 comments it’s accumulated so far. Other posts since then have significantly surpassed that—a photo of the finished masks posted on March 27 received 2,612 likes and 99 comments as of April 9—signaling that while business is effectively at a standstill, its brand is possibly the strongest it’s ever been.
“We just [wanted to focus on] mask making,” said Lytvinenko. “It felt more important than anything else, so we did what we thought was right.”
The team was able to create more than 2,650 masks made from 230 yards of a medical-grade Burlington Barrier Maxima AT breathable material, which is used in protective medical uniforms for hospitals. The brand sold 450 masks at $20 each—enough to cover the total cost of production—and donated the rest. For each mask sold on the site, Raleigh Denim Workshop donated two masks for medical and grocery store workers.
And it was an immediate success.
“We sold out in 8 minutes,” said Lytvinenko.
Once the masks were complete, the company pivoted to selling T-shirts featuring the phrase “Fortitude Unum Sumus,” Latin for “Courage Together.” Designed by the brand’s graphic designer Tim Reavis and screen printed by Lytvinenko’s friend Adam Peele, the shirt will help local restaurant workers who now find themselves out of work. The brand debuted the shirt on its Instagram page, noting that 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the North Carolina Restaurant Workers Relief Fund.
Currently, everything on the Raleigh Denim Workshop site is marked down 20 percent to drive sales and salvage the brand.
“Our only channel to connect with our customers right now is through the website,” said Lytvinenko. “That’s where we are focusing our connection right now.”