28 July 2011

Off the Cuff visits Raleigh Denim: social media at its best

Victor Lytvinenko of Raleigh Denim (L) and Chris Hogan
Last week my family got a visit from Chris Hogan's family.  We have known each other for years and I'm fortunate to call them great friends.

Chris is also founder and editor of Off the Cuff, one of the most prominent men's fashion blogs you'll find.  He's often featured in mainstream publications as an expert. His work in social media is a well-recognized case study of best practices. So as one might expect, when we firmed up the details of his visit Chris sent out a tweet to his followers:
"Heading to Raleigh, NC, in a few weeks. Looking for some stores/brands to check out, visit. Suggestions?"
Not surprisingly, he got a number of people suggesting he visit the proprietors of Raleigh Denim, one of the last  places in America where jeans (and some other items) are made by hand, all under one roof.  You can find their clothes in elite stores like Barneys New York.  They're not cheap, but they're not cheap, if you know what I mean. So Chris reached out to the owners and arranged a visit, and (after burgers and beers) he let me tag along.

When we arrived on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, founders/owners Victor and Sarah Lytvinenko were busy putting together denim bags for shipment. Victor took us around the shop and I assumed "fly on the wall" status as  Chris talked with him about his approach to making clothes and the company's story.

And it's a great story.  Victor is a rare blend of artist and entrepreneur.  He loved that schools in the Raleigh area were producing students with great ideas about textiles but lamented the fact that very few of those students were ever able to bring ideas to market.

He also talked about trying to start the business in late 2009 and early 2010, one of the worst economic environments in our history.  Family members were pitching in and they were working around the clock, making samples and trying to convince stores to carry their product.  After finally managing to send a small order to Barneys, he received a request for a larger order, but didn't have the capital to buy raw materials or tools to accommodate them.  Since the economy was in the depths of the credit crunch, no bank would lend him the money.  Then President Obama's stimulus package became law - and Victor soon after got a call from the bank, telling him he could get that loan.  Now Victor and Sarah aren't worrying about growing their business - they're worrying about growing it too quickly.

Most of the afternoon, however, was spent talking about the craftsmanship, history, and philosophy that goes into making clothes at Raleigh Denim.  It was clear from the outset that Victor and Chris were of the same mind on this - other than jotting down a few numbers, Chris didn't really have to take notes because it was all obvious to him.  Once Chris got home he wrote and published a great blog post that summarizes his takeaways from the visit.   He also sent out a tweet that suggested a potential new partner and opportunity:
Someone please explain why @jcrew_insider isn't knocking on @raleighdenim 's door? Amazing jeans, made like we used to make 'em in America.
This is how social media often works best - a person reaches out to a network for ideas, acts on those ideas, and develops more ideas that can benefit more people.  The fact that Chris used specific tools was secondary to the experience - what really mattered is that Chris reached out to people who were part of a community, and that he leveraged online relationships to accomplish a goal.

That's why he's better than you at this.


Brandon said...

To my mind one and all ought to look at this.
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Jack said...

What a hard sell to me for social crap. Jeez, who constantly looks to social media for ideas, especially strangers ideas!? Please, let's be real and not brain dead.