These Small Doses of Optimism from Entrepreneurs in the Face of the Coronavirus Are Oddly Reassuring

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Notes from some of my favorite innovative startups and small businesses are making me feel a little better this week.

Clothing companies and fashion retailers are likely not not at the top of most peoples’ minds as they scramble to work from home while planning homeschooling lessons and watching the stock market continue its downward slide.

Yet as the the coronavirus crisis deepens and we all hunker down in our homes, the now steady stream of messages from some of my favorite startups and small businesses has been oddly comforting.

If you are able, it’s really important to support small and independent businesses like the ones below.  (And, if you’re concerned, here is what the experts say about whether you can get COVID-19 from mail or packages being delivered.)


Photo courtesy of Ledbury

Brighter days are to come

I was particularly struck by the note the founders of Richmond-based menswear startup Ledbury sent out on March 16. I have long admired the co-founders Paul Trible and Paul Watson for building one of the best menswear brands in America that offers phenomenal options for colorful men’s dress shirts.

They wrote a thoughtful letter to their community observing that:

We realize that your wardrobe might not be a top priority, but we hope that our outreach will come as a welcome distraction, and new summer product will be a reminder that brighter days are to come.

We are a small business — one that is blessed by an incredible community of supporters that have been with us for the past ten years. Our thoughts are with you and your families. Stay safe out there. We are here if you need us, and we all look forward to better times ahead.

At that moment, having digested a steady stream of bad news, Ledbury’s email was a nice distraction.

Keep calm, stay safe and help each other remain positive

Rupa Ganguli and Emma Dick, founders of the terrific terrific microecommerce platform, Inclusive Trade said that, with so much conflicting information everywhere, they felt it was time to send out a re-assuring and uplifting message. They noted the steps they were taking to keep their employees and and the creative artisans their platform supports around the world safe, and that their website will remain open.

In a March 17 note to their community, Rupa and Emma (pictured at the top of this article) also called for taking a moment to think positively:

This sudden economic shock has made many of us start re-thinking the way we live and shop. Overstocked pantries will be used cautiously, last year’s fashion pieces revived and cars will stay in the garage. As people start to read more books, rest, exercise, create art, play games and grow gardens full of fresh food, we will start learning again, the old ways of being, while allowing the earth to begin to heal.

The UK-based startup ended by advising “keep calm, stay safe and lets help each other remain positive through the day!”

Rupa and Emma do good work everyday to enable customs to choose to support development and sustainability, and they are also unfailingly optimistic, which was very much welcome this morning.  Check out their website to learn how to #shopbyimpact and support entrepreneurs like Antonio Prahl, who makes fantastic socks for men and kids.)

Nicholas-Hurtado-y-Andrés-Niño-Founders-of-Beckett-Simonon

We need to watch out for each other

Andres Nino and Nicholas Hurtado, co-founders of Beckett Simonon, which is one of my absolute favorite destinations for dress shoes for men online and a great option for leather sneakers too, sent a note to their community on March 17 saying “we’re thinking of you.” They added, “during times like these, we need to watch out for each other.”

Through April 30, Beckett Simonon is donating 1% of its sales to Feeding America, a network of food banks that provide assistance to low-income Americans who could be significantly impacted by the coronavirus. You can donate to Feeding America too.

We’ll pull together as a community in unprecedented ways

Derek Tian and Warren Liao, Co-Founders of the terrific online custom tailor Black Lapel, published a note online that said in part:

We know buying custom suits and shirts may not be top of mind right now – and that’s okay. We’ll be here and ready to help you out when you have a need.

We’ll get through this together by pulling together as a community in unprecedented ways.

From our entire BL family – we wish you and your loved ones good health, strength and resilience in the days to come.

Derek, in an interview with Modern Fellows, said he sees significant headwinds for his small business.

I’ve known Derek and Warren since 2012, and Black Lapel is one of my favorite destinations for online custom suits. Black Lapel is at the forefront of making made-to-measure suiting more accessible to men everywhere.

In their note, Black Lapel asked those who are able to shop to “remember to support small businesses like ours and like your neighborhood restaurants however you can.”

Trying our best to carry on.

I interviewed Eric Powell, the founder of custom men’s shirting company Ratio Clothing, about the impact of the coronavirus on his business.

Through Ratio Clothing, Eric has made made-to-measure shirting more accessible to more men.  Ratio is one of my favorite digital native brands that are helping men dress sharp in the digital age.

We are trying our best to carry on and find a “new normal.” We’re excited about our spring/summer collection (rolling out over the next weeks and months) that’s our biggest yet.

We will get through this and come out stronger

Daniel Porcelli, Co-Founder & CEO of Atlanta, Georgia-based Cobbler Union, which is a great option for dress shoes for men, sent a note around to their subscriber list on March 16, saying in part that:

We are a small company, independently owned and operated. Our team, our family, and partners in Italy, Spain, and Portugal are also taking all necessary precautions to reduce the spread of the virus, while still working to keep our company and supply chain running.

While we acknowledge that shoes may not be the most important at this time, it is our craft. This craft is what binds our artisans, our team, and our customers together; and, we are committed to our journey of preserving and promoting extraordinary craftsmanship…

Although we will be challenged, we continue to remain energized and optimistic. During these difficult times, we kindly ask you to support small businesses whenever and wherever you can. Together, we will get through this and come out stronger.

Tell me something good

If you’ve spotted a brand (or any other effort) that is making you feel better, tell me about it in the comments or send an email to info (at) modernfellows.com.

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About Jake

Jake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age.  Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.

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