Taylor and Tanner Barkin have always learned by trial and error. Now, that instinct has saved their business.
The high school sweethearts took up screen printing in 2010 as a hobby in Tanner's parents' basement. They developed a fondness for the art form and decided to launch a clothing brand. At the time, people told them, "You're in high school. It's probably not going to work — but good luck."
It turns out they didn't need luck. After a decade of hard work and "various gut-wrenching failures," the Barkins have built the Moore Collection, a successful small business with a storefront in Denver's Clayton neighborhood. The brand, which specializes in charming outdoor graphics, offers apparel and other outdoor goods, such as notebooks, tree-scented candles, camp cups and tea towels. Although the Barkins are busy year-round, summer is a particularly hot time for T-shirt sales.
In a normal year, the couple would be ramping up for back-to-back sales events throughout Colorado, as well as in other states. But this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put an end to all of the makers' markets, festivals and other events that they look forward to.
When the shutdown began, Taylor says, "we feared we wouldn't make it out of this alive. All of our retailers shut their doors, our events were canceled, and overnight, we lost 85 percent of our revenue streams. Within a week, our losses surpassed $150,000 because of future cancellations and closures."
At the time, she continues, "we had to make a decision: Do we give up on what we've spent a decade as husband and wife building together, or fight for everything we've worked for?" They chose the latter, then considered their options. Taylor spent a few weeks researching small-business loans, but was disheartened that Moore Collection fell in the same "small business" category as companies such as Shake Shack that employ over 6,000 people. She says the first round of Paycheck Protection Program loans went out to those larger "small businesses," leaving companies like Moore in the dust. Getting a PPP loan is "kind of like winning the lottery," Taylor laments.
Then they looked at the pile of unsellable T-shirts sitting in their warehouse, and the salvation for their business became clear: They would follow CDC guidelines and make protective COVID-19 masks.
"We'd heard that there was a fabric shortage from people mass-producing masks; same with elastic," Taylor says. "[But] we've done T-shirts for ten years, and we've set aside shirts that were deemed unsellable because they had holes or slight misprints." Thus they were able to turn their T-shirt factory into a mask-making factory.
"We found a way to save our business and save lives," she adds.
Now Moore Collection is cranking out masks, crafted from heavyweight cotton T-shirt material, with a pocket for added protection should wearers choose to add it.
As soon as the initial batch of masks was ready, the Barkins posted them online. Though they expected the demand to last for a few days at best, the orders keep rolling in.
"We know there is a mask shortage, and we also know that masks are vital to helping people survive COVID-19," they say. "We are desperately striving to flatten the curve, so we have remained dedicated to working around the clock to manufacture masks to get them out to people as fast as we can." To help them with their mission, they've taken on remote seamstresses, many of whom were laid off when the pandemic hit.
Today Moore is working as one of the partners of the Colorado Mask Project, and the company is donating 15 percent of all mask sales to Feed the Frontlines, an organization symbiotically sustaining local restaurants and medical workers with donated meals.
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Though the Barkins admit that making masks isn't a creatively fulfilling practice, they know it's the right thing to do for their business and their community.
"We never intended to make masks, ever. But with the current situation we're faced with and the resources available, we felt it was our moral obligation to do what we could to flatten the curve."
Though they look forward to getting back to their whimsical T-shirt designs and the joys of camping season, until that day comes, they say, "We are up for the challenge."