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Victor Lytvinenko isn’t quite sure how Raleigh Denim + Workshop’s foray into e-commerce is going to go.
This story first appeared in the October 16, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“How much of a sales boost will this give us? I have no clue,” he admitted, “and it’s a bit scary because we’ve always been a company that wanted people to see and feel and try on our products. A picture on a screen doesn’t really do the details justice.”
Those reservations were outweighed by the company’s interest in selling its flagship product, handcrafted jeans all made in the U.S., and its sportswear to men and women who can’t get to its multibrand “Curatory” store in the brand’s Raleigh, N.C., home; its monobrand store in New York’s Little Italy district, or the 100 other doors, including units of Barneys New York, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, that stock the brand in the U.S. Its two stores currently generate about one-quarter of the business.
Raleigh’s Web site at raleighworkshop.com relaunched Tuesday with an edited selection of jeans and sportswear, both men’s and women’s, available for sale.
Lytvinenko and his partner and wife, Sarah Yarborough, began sewing jeans pretty much as a hobby in 2007, availing themselves of used sewing and cutting equipment found online from factories in the Southeast that had closed. Within a year, they were producing jeans for friends and, by 2009, they committed to making a business out of their avocation, starting with men’s jeans that were, as its label notes, “handcrafted by non-automated jeansmiths in Raleigh, N.C.”
The enterprise grew to include first women’s denim and then sportswear for both genders, with the men’s denim and most of the women’s jeans continuing to be produced in its Raleigh base, which now employs about 30, and supplemental production coming from contractors in New York and Los Angeles.
Yet, the couple is not among those who, having established an anchor in jeans, began to think in more grandiose terms. “We always wanted to make this a fashion brand but, to start, we needed to do one thing well,” Lytvinenko noted. “Jeans are certainly an item that people wear and love, but the fact is that jeans were what we were actually in a position to produce. We didn’t have the connections to other factories and systems that would have allowed us to run a full-fledged fashion business immediately.”
He wouldn’t divulge sales figures but reported that volume has grown “at least 50 percent” every year for the past four years.
Sportswear has quickly grown to about 20 percent of sales and features “all kinds of riffs on basics, like oxford shirts with welt pockets and men’s tweed blazers,” according to the cofounder. Men’s denim remains heavily focused on raw, selvedge looks while efforts have been made to differentiate women’s denim with more colors and washes. Jeans price points start at just above $200 and top out with an organic cotton jean at $325.
“Sarah and a few of our friends like to wear selvedge denim, but we’ve narrowed our assortment in women’s and gone after key resins and stretch fabrics,” he said.
On the Web site, Raleigh intends to experiment with limited-edition items and minimize overlap so as not to hurt the business of its wholesale accounts. The company is looking to expand its direct-to-consumer reach beyond e-commerce, with Lytvinenko interested in “opening another store or two in the next year. It will be a matter of finding the right space. We’ll focus on the West Coast for the next store.”
By the time it opens, Raleigh’s production may no longer be coming through its own factory and a handful of contractors, although the company is likely to keep its production in the U.S.
“Either we build another factory or we start working more with other people. And I don’t want to build another factory,” he concluded.