The restaurant workwear supplier that switched to making face masks at launch
Deirdra Jones is a veteran of the fashion, beauty, and food industries, having worked as a designer for Steven Alan and as the creative director of her own workwear brand, Jones of Boerum Hill. With 15 years of experience in the fashion industry focusing on tailoring and fit, Jones and her previous label provided the hospitality industry with quality aprons and workwear designed with a modernist aesthetic.
While launching her new label Rendall Co. with Syama Meagher in 2020, the brand was forced to set aside business as usual before the business even got started. The entire team at Rendall Co.—from product developers to sewing technicians—doubled down on producing face masks. In time, the label has since resumed original sales plans, starting with a sleek set of denim tool belts, bib aprons, and bistro aprons.
Fortune recently spoke with cofounders Jones and Meagher about their first year in business, adapting to the reopening of the hospitality industry, and plans for the future.
The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Fortune: What inspired you to launch Rendall Co.?
Jones: Rendall Co. launched as a way to elevate the hospitality experience, from a fashion perspective. I take inspiration from classic Americana heritage, Japanese fabrics and prints, and a methodical and technical approach to design and development. Each product has been stress tested in the market before reaching the consumer. (As far as the name goes, I had just moved to Los Angeles to start a new life, and my first apartment was on Rendall Place.)
Rendall Co. was intended to launch with aprons and workwear in April 2020, but the COVID-19 crisis instead put me into emergency development mode to quickly design an innovative mask that could be worn all day, with comfort and style.
As cofounders, how do you divide your duties and responsibilities? What’s an average day like for each of you?
Meagher: Deirdra takes the lead as our chief creative and product developer. This is a product-first business, where attention to detail and craftsmanship are a high priority. Everything we do centers around the product, and Deirdra’s focus on this is essential. I lead business operations and strategy as our CEO.
Rendall Co. launched in 2020—just before the hospitality industry was pummeled during the shutdowns. How did your company respond? What steps did you take to make the switch to producing face masks?
Meagher: We, like the world, had no idea what was going to happen last April. We had planned on launching a workwear business that would sell wholesale to the hospitality industry, not a [direct-to-consumer] mask company! We had to quickly activate our supply chain to move into mask production and shift our hiring and growth strategy. Moving from one factory to seven, and scaling up our team to manage a DTC business in seven weeks was a big feat. We were able to gross $2 million in revenue within six months, by focusing on brand awareness and shoring up our supply chain to manufacture fast. Everyone had told us not to produce masks, that there would be too much competition, but we were able to leverage our experience and our relationships with our manufacturers to move fast and support the crisis.
Within six months, we had donated 60,000 masks to first responders and those who were the most vulnerable, like the Navajo Nation and the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles. We never could have imagined that the Rendall Co. launch would be as a mask company.
Despite the Delta variant’s spread, most regions have fully reopened across the country and are starting to elsewhere. What kind of opportunity does this present for Rendall Co.? Any plans to expand your collection beyond masks, tool belts, and aprons?
Jones: Yes, we are so excited to be launching into an expanded assortment of lifestyle, home, and apparel categories. As we keep our eye on the new variants, we are also preparing to serve our community again with face masks in new colors. You can expect to see us continue to create high-design products that are released as they become perfected. We’ve taken a decisively slow fashion approach, which is in alignment with our values of craftsmanship and innovation.
Looking ahead, how do you want to see Rendall Co. evolve in the next five years?
Meagher: Rendall Co. straddles a unique business model—DTC, retail, and wholesale trade, all driven by a methodical design and development approach. This is very different from traditional seasonal deliveries and fast fashion brands, as well as bulk-driven uniform companies. We will continue to build out our product assortment, solidifying us as the go-to premium brand for those who appreciate well-constructed lifestyle and home products. Our hospitality focus will stay a core part of the business. It’s been a dream to work with clients like Eataly, The French Laundry, Estée Lauder, and Frenchette, who all appreciate details, craftsmanship, and creating an elevated customer experience through and through.
Further down the road, we are planning a flagship Rendall Co. experiential store, continued collaboration with like-minded arbiters of style, and introducing incredible and unique products that can reach all audiences.
This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.