Ledbury has learned to pivot its business in the era of the coronavirus.
The Richmond-based maker and retailer of high-end men’s shirts and accessories shifted from making its signature upscale shirts to producing thousands of masks.
About 250 fabric masks, designed for nonmedical use, are made daily from its shop attached to its headquarters on West Broad Street in downtown Richmond. It also has converted its shirtmaking factories in Poland and China into each facility producing about 25,000 protective masks a week.
“We were put in this spot where we can help and there is a need for protection,” said Paul Trible III, the co-founder and CEO of Ledbury. “And it is keeping our business in business and keeping our factories in business.”
At first, Ledbury began making masks about five weeks ago for VCU Health System and subsequently began selling some to such businesses as Altria Group and Capital One.
Last Wednesday, it started selling them to customers on its website — a single mask (for $15 each) that is pleated or diamond-shaped made in Richmond as well as a pack of three ($25) that have three layers using anti-microbial cotton that are made at its overseas plants.
Sales have been strong ever since then, Trible said. “It has doubled our e-commerce business. There is a lot of demand out there.”
Ledbury also is donating 5,000 masks to The Community Foundation for a greater Richmond for that organization to give to other needy groups. And the company is working with a partnership in New York to provide 10,000 masks for the homeless.
The company also plans to provide masks free to those Virginia businesses receiving $3,000 grants to help small businesses stay afloat and continue operating during the pandemic.
The Virginia 30 Day Fund, created in early April, has given grants as of Monday to about 140 small businesses in Virginia, said technology entrepreneur Pete Snyder, who founded the fund with his wife. It has raised more than $900,000.
“For us, we feel blessed that we have a business that we can operate at this time, and we wanted to find ways we can give back,” Trible said. “We’ve gone from a defensive position to an offensive position and one where we can help.”
After hearing about the Virginia 30 Day Fund, Trible said he wanted to find a way to help other small businesses.
The mission of the fund is to help provide some temporary financial help. Trible said giving those companies masks for their employees will help prepare them for the next steps when the business can reopen or operate under a new norm.
“We have to make sure these employees are safe and customers are safe. Providing the masks will be helping hundreds of struggling small businesses,” said Snyder, who also is the CEO of Disruptor Capital, a Northern Virginia-based venture capital firm. Snyder’s Disruptor Capital made an investment in Ledbury in 2014, and he is a member of the company’s board.
The coronavirus pandemic hit Ledbury hard like it has with many companies.
In March, Ledbury temporarily closed its three retail stores. Its wholesale customers such as retail chains stopped accepting orders. Sales on the company’s e-commerce site were very sluggish.
“We had to move pretty quickly. We were hunkering down and trying to figure out what we were going to do,” Trible said.
That’s when the company shifted to making the masks. “We were making some [masks] in our workshop for some customers and friends and decided we could this turn into a much wider use.”
Two Richmond-area business owners also saw a need for masks.
Dina Alan, the owner of Alan Furs & Fine Jewelry, and Cheryl Fornash, the owner of Cheryl Fornash Jewelers, initially wanted to donate KN-95 air respirator masks to area hospitals or health care centers.
Word got out what they were doing. Their customers and others wanted to buy the highly-sought after KN-95 masks that filter about 95% of airborne particles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s when the two business owners had the idea — they could make fabric masks, sell them to customers and for each one they sold, they would donate a KN-95 mask.
Besides, Alan had nice quality cotton fabrics available, and she had seamstresses at her shop who needed the work.
“So far, the mask project has been extremely successful, and people are continuing to buy them,” Fornash said.
About 700 masks have seen sold on the RVAMasks.com website to date, she said. The flat front or pleated masks sell for $18 each and are available after ordering online for curbside pickup at Alan Furs’ showroom at 10300 W. Broad St. in Henrico County or for free shipping.
All proceeds from the sales on RVAMasks.com will go toward the purchase of KN-95 masks for local health care professionals.
They committed to donating a minimum of 500 of the masks to health care operators. They are giving them in increments of 100 — the first are to be delivered Thursday to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.
They have the 500 masks, but now they need to find more, Fornash said.
“The fact that people wanted to wear a mask, we didn’t realize this was going to be in such demand,” she said.