Accomplishment rarely lasts when it’s static. When you’ve built, created or achieved something of value, you can almost guarantee that not too far behind will be imitators, competitors and detractors.
The beginning of a new year is the ideal time to examine our thinking, perspective and patterns – even in the midst of success. This mindset is exactly what our friends at Raleigh Denim have been focused on. Even though they’ve seen their idea grow into an accomplished, acclaimed fashion brand, they are constantly improving, fine-tuning and finding new inspiration. We caught up with Victor Lytvinenko, co-founder with his wife Sarah, of Raleigh Denim to talk about looking ahead.
First, how has Raleigh Denim developed over the past few years?
We’ve been busy as we split time between North Carolina and New York continuing to grow our men and women’s denim program. We’ve also been designing small ready-to-wear collections for both men and women, which we presented at New York Fashion Week for the past four seasons. Then we opened a flagship retail store in New York at Elizabeth and Prince, which we designed in collaboration with Shohei Shigematsu, director of the New York OMA office. Finally, we were honored to be accepted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America (the first designers from North Carolina to be selected).
How have you refined some of the aspects of your craft?
We pay a lot of attention to material, and we’re using a wider range of denim and canvas. Each time we work with a new material, we get to develop our fit further, refine some detailing, employ a new finishing technique, draw out some new character – basically evolve. Some change in perspective is also inevitable.
With success, I’m sure you’ve seen others copy specific aspects of what you’re doing. How do you respond to that?
Well, it’s never fun to see something we thought was “ours” pop up somewhere else, but we do believe that old adage about imitation being a form of flattery. We also understand that it’s really difficult to do something entirely original, and we’re inspired by all kinds of sources that we may or may not be conscious of. Ultimately, being copied inspires us to work harder and be better, so in the end we turn that challenge into a way to grow.
What keeps you inspired?
Our original inspiration is our mission statement, which has remained the same:
- To build the ideal pair of jeans in principle and form
- To be a part of the revitalization of the garment industry in North Carolina and America
- To embrace quality before quantity and the humanness inherent in that idea
- To be as socially, environmentally and economically sustainable as we can
Beyond that, we find new inspiration in collaborating with other designers, especially in other disciplines (product design and architecture). In one instance, we collaborated with Bernhardt Design to create a custom table that launched at a special installation at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York.
As you think about renewal, how are you modifying what you’re doing?
We’re expanding our denim offering this year, making jeans that range from $175 on up to $425. Over the years, we’ve been streamlining our process and can now offer an all-American (American cotton, Cone denim, cut and sewn in our downtown Raleigh workshop, handcrafted and signed) jean for under $200. We’re also having more fun with materials, construction details and washes on a few really special styles at the higher end.
Speaking of innovation, talk about your organic cotton project.
In a moment of idealism, I was thinking about how to create the ideal pair of jeans. They would be made of organic cotton grown in North Carolina, from Cone Denim White Oak and constructed by us in downtown Raleigh. So we went and partnered with some farmers to grow organic cotton – it wasn’t being done – and found other companies that would also want to buy the organic cotton to guarantee it would be viable for the farmers. Then we approached Cone to process it for us in a special way. The result was the first crop of organically grown cotton in North Carolina that produced an amazingly beautiful fabric and a special pair of jeans, with an incredibly small carbon footprint.