CLT’s Retail Fashion Industry Turns Coronavirus Crisis Guilt Into Support For Each Other And Our Community

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – “It’s tough, because the last thing somebody needs right now is a custom suit,” says Ole Mason Jar CEO Bradley Rhyne with a laugh. But he is in the business of making beautiful suits at a time when everyone, rightly so, is instead focused on face masks and staying home. He says of his company’s ability to weather this coronavirus storm: “Day-by-day is how we’re taking it.”

Noelle Munoz is a Charlotte-based custom jewelry maker. It’s how she pays the bills, but she knows her pieces are luxury purchases for her customers. She says, “It’s…hard, you know, in a time like this, to be out there saying, ‘Hey, buy jewelry!'”

And stylist Whitley Adkins Hamlin of The Queen City Style felt the same way, saying, “I just had, this like, conflicting feeling that I couldn’t get past, encouraging people to spend a lot of money on clothes.”

That conflict drove Hamlin to create Fashion Forward Charlotte, a website where well-known local boutiques, designers and stylists can share their sales, their offerings, (“The restaurants aren’t the only businesses that are offering take out,” reminds Hamlin) and how spending money with them right now helps them pay their own bills, and helps them pay it forward.

Hamlin says, “I will feel better about selling my services knowing that it’s not just (going to) me.” Members of Hamlin’s Fashion Forward coalition agree to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity or help out in other ways. Munoz says, “This really gives me really sort of a purpose and kind of has gotten me back into feeling like I’m part of the community.”

At Ole Mason Jar in South End, Rhyne is going to donate a custom suit to a couple whose wedding has been postponed because of the coronavirus. While his shop is shut down for now, he’s grateful for his online sales, and knows it could be worse. “I’m staying positive that we can at least do something,” he says.

Hamlin also describes Fashion Forward Charlotte as a way for the industry to support itself, and support people with deeper needs.