Then, Now, Forever: Anthony Lupesco
Anthony Lupesco launched Shockoe Atelier in 2012 with his father, Pierre, and continues to run the business with his family today. Each pair of jeans produced in their factory in Richmond, VA is crafted by hand, resulting in a one-of-a-kind product every time.
How did denim become your calling?
When I was little we moved from McLean, Virginia to northern Italy. Then we moved to France, and then back to Italy before we came back to the US. I didn't really speak the languages at first, and even though it was actually kind of cool to be an American, I was always an outsider. Especially in small towns in Italy, if you're not born there you’re an outsider. This is kind of corny, but denim was always this thing that made me just feel like home. Like it's cool, I'm not one of you, that's fine. I’m an American. It became a point of pride for me.
How did you come to run a family business?
My parents have been all over on the apparel industry: they moved to United States as wholesale agents for brands that grew out of the “Made in Italy” movement that happened in the late 70s and 80s. When we moved to Italy, my father started working as a consultant and a designer for a couple of different Italian companies until he started his own. When I was fourteen my parents and I moved back to Virginia, where they had a high end women’s boutique in Georgetown. In 2005, my parents shut down their shop in DC. I was going to school in San Francisco at the time, but thought I could move back to the east coast, use their contacts, and try to recreate what they had in Georgetown in Richmond.
So I left college and moved to Richmond. My parents also moved to Richmond from DC to help. But then the economy crashed. And then I moved the business to a mall. But we were a downtown business, and the move kind of killed it. After that I was going to join the U.S. Marines, but I was dating this girl that I really liked so I decided to stay - we're married now so I think that was a good decision! I was still trying to figure out what I want to do, and I had a string of unsuccessful jobs, the kind where I would leave during lunch and not come back. After the last one, I realized I needed to figure out what I really wanted to do, and when the idea [for Shockoe Denim] came up I thought, “I want to make it myself. I have no idea how to do that, but I know my dad does.” I knew I didn't want to just sell clothes, I wanted to make them. I wanted to have the products in my hand at the end of the day, and with everything that I learned from my family growing up I felt I could actually do it - we could make the best pair of jeans.
Since my parents owned their businesses together when I was growing up, I always saw them working together. In high school I would sometimes work in their shop in Georgetown, that's how we got used to working together. I think from the very beginning they always looked at [Shockoe] as, “This is our son's business and we're here to help him.” Of course that’s not always how it goes - we drive each other crazy sometimes - but in some ways that has become our process. We vet out a lot of ideas in unconventional ways. But it's cool because at the end of the day you have absolute trust in the people you're working with.
How do you stay true to yourself and what you really want to do and not succumb to what everybody else is telling you you should be doing?
People shop with companies like ours because they connect with the product, they believe that there's a reason that those products are being made. We try locally in Richmond to release something like a $100 pair of jeans, or have something on sale so that if you live in Richmond you can come in and get our jeans. To me it comes down to the fact that that's what it costs to make something that's beautiful and actually pay the people close to what they deserve for making it and pay them a decent living. Denim was originally meant for the mine shaft worker, the every man, the working class and here we are selling a working class products at a high price point, so there’s a bit of an internal struggle there. But the reason why it's more expensive is because we are the working class, the people who make these jeans need to get paid, and they need to go home with dignity and not feel like they’ve been taken advantage of all day.