Do it for others. Do it for love. Do it for kindness. We don’t really care why you do it — just Mask Up, RVA. Sporting a facemask isn’t political, it’s smart. It shows self-discipline and a commitment to your community. That’s why we’ve teamed up with photographer Nick Davis to continue our “Mask Up, RVA” series. This powerful photo essay provides images by Davis and interviews by Richmond Grid that highlight local, small businesses responsible for creating face shields and face masks that are helping us push through the current pandemic. These are the people who roll up their sleeves during a crisis. These are the people who proactively find solutions and look for ways to use their unique talents. These are the people that give us no excuse not to mask up.
With that in mind, let’s meet Anthony Lupesco, co-founder of Shockoe Atelier. As many Richmonders know, Lupesco launched Shockoe Atelier with his father, Pierre Lupesco, in 2012 in a workshop at 13 South 15th Street in Shockoe Bottom. Since that time, Shockoe Atelier has become known around the world for its ethically manufactured apparel made by immigrants in the U.S.A. The co-founders of Shockoe Atelier like to point out that they are a funny collection of French, Korean, Mexican, Guatemalan, Scottish, German, English and so on – brought together by fate or circumstance – with the gumption to make a line of classic American apparel in an old cinderblock box of a building at the doorstep of the American South.
And for that, we’re thankful. Not only has Shockoe Atelier meticulously crafted denim and denim-inspired tailored goods for years, in recent months a dedicated crew of 5 has grown to 20 while turning its attention to cranking out thousands of face masks.
Take it away, Anthony!
When and why did you shift to producing personal protection equipment?
Anthony: Like a lot of small businesses out there, we felt the impact of the pandemic pretty much immediately. We still had some activity online but the bulk of our customer traffic just shut down. Our business changed overnight. Everything we do is handmade, so our team is super critical to our success. It became apparent that we were going to have to figure out how to keep them paid during such a steep drop-off in sales. It was around this time that news reports of massive, wide spread shortages of personal protective equipment were starting to emerge. It occurred to me that we were actually perfectly suited to hop in and help close the gap. I mean, we’re small, so our daily quota is capped, but other than that, we had all the resources available to start production of PPE. I reached out to Mayor Stoney, Rep McEachin, and Danny Avula to see if they could help facilitate a connection.
All three suggested that we check in with the MCV. Will Kahn of VCU Health forwarded us a pattern and the specs for working with the required materials. We were able to get a working prototype up pretty quickly as a result. Once the MCV team signed off on our work, we sourced the appropriate materials and began retooling our existing production facility.
It’s been exhilarating work, honestly. We’re excited to keep our people fully employed and contribute meaningful equipment to the folks operating on the front lines of this pandemic. Meeting our daily quota goals requires fast, hard work and a significant change of pace from making denim apparel. Regardless, we’re super thankful to be in a position to help.
Can you share how many masks have you’ve created and more about your process?
Anthony: Over 200,000! We started back in March with a small team of 5 people and grew the operation to about 20 people which allowed us to meet the demand and maintain a high-quality standard.
What makes your masks unique?
Anthony: The masks that we’re making now are more utilitarian than anything at the moment. They were originally designed to fit over N95s, back when extending the amount of time that particular equipment could be used was the priority.
What community outreach efforts and partnerships have you launched as part of your mask making efforts.
Anthony: Well, for one, I would say that our partnership with MCV has been really essential during this whole process. We were able to step in relatively seamlessly and help them with their production needs and as a direct result kept us rolling. Furthermore, we were able to introduce other local companies like Ledbury to the MCV program and help them get coordinated, get access to supplies and logistical support and even cut fabric. It felt great to be able to make those introductions and get other organizations involved in the collective effort.
What are your plans for reopening and how can the community support you?
Anthony: Well, funny that you ask. This deviation from the normal day to day operations of Shockoe have allowed us to take a step back and really asses where we are and where we’re going. We have some cool changes that we’ve been working on the summer. Things are still in motion, but we are looking forward to rolling them out sooner than later. The current timeline that we’re operating on is to re-open the shop by mid-September. Obviously, it all depends on how this fall shakes out. So, we’re planning on being flexible and push it back a bit until its safe for our staff and customers if we need to. The community has been great, so supportive already. And we couldn’t ask for better customers. I guess all that we ask is just for all of you to stay healthy, stay safe and stay tuned into our station. We’re so stoked to reopen, and we want you all to be there to celebrate with us.