First came love, then came marriage, then came a fashionable denim label. Victor Lytvinenko and Sarah Yarborough found their entrepreneurial niche when they tried making designer jeans that fit better than what they could find at the store. A chance meeting with Barneys -- thanks to an intro from a friend -- gave them a national platform in 2009, and their business cleared $2 million in revenue last year. The couple talks about their collaboration, both professional and personal.
Sarah Yarborough: Running a business with Victor is really lovely, but the first two years were hard. We thought every decision should be 50/50, but that’s unrealistic. Now we each have an area where one of us has 51 percent of the vote -- Victor is the extrovert, and he does the business relationships, like financing and sourcing. I tend to be more introverted and behind the scenes, working on product design and operations support.
Victor Lytvinenko: We have a very idealistic way of making things, and what’s exciting about having our own workshop is that it doesn’t have to be compromised as we grow.
Yarborough: People like to buy better and buy less, and they’re excited to learn how the product came to be. Our focus at the beginning was craft, and it remains craft-oriented, but it doesn’t have to remain old-school. There used to be lots of denim factories in Western North Carolina, and when the production moved overseas, they shut down.
Lytvinenko: We naively thought we could hire people who had experience and revitalize this industry, but it had been too much time since the factories closed. Those people had either moved on to other jobs or retired. But we’ve been finding people in Raleigh who want to work with their hands and make things, and we teach them the process.
Yarborough: One of the benefits of teaching is that there is an investment of training time from both sides -- them and us -- so we have had less turnover than the traditional factory where anyone can come in and push a button.
Lytvinenko: We didn’t have any expertise when we started -- in hindsight, I’d recommend first working for someone else who is doing it.
Yarborough: It’s the fastest way to learn what you don’t know. And when you do find mentors, ask very specific questions that lead to very specific answers. Then get out of their way.
Lytvinenko: Getting into Barneys in 2009 was when we kind of felt like we made it. It legitimized the brand and the way we were doing it.
Yarborough: It also kicked our butts into becoming a company in a proper way. It was a “made it” moment publicly, but the real “made it” moment internally might have been after we had a few seasons of production under our belts and knew that we were going to be around long enough to be on the shelves next season. We have people who are still wearing the very first pair of jeans they got from us 10 years ago, and we have people who go through a pair in six to eight months because they ride their bikes in them and wear them hard. They patch, patch, patch the holes and trade them out when they’re finally dead.