Not many direct-to-consumer (DTC) startups can say they broke into the U.S. market with three billboards in Times Square. But that’s exactly what a Portland, Oregon-based company called DHVANI has done – and it has even taken the gambit one level higher. DHVANI is using the billboards to kick off a fundraising campaign to provide all 327 million American residents with a free medical face mask to hopefully slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just one week into the campaign, the company has received more than 100,000 requests for masks and has started shipping them per requests. Avi Brown, CEO and co-founder of DHVANI, hopes that no one in New York sees the billboards without the proper social distancing. He also says the campaign is personal.
“'A Mask for Every American’ is actually very personal for us,” he said. “Someone close to my family contracted COVID-19 and was in the ICU fighting for her life. She was on a ventilator and had to be medically induced into a coma. Eighty percent of people who reach that state don’t make it. Miraculously, she survived. She’s now out of the ICU and in a rehabilitation facility. Also, my co-founder’s mother is a registered nurse at Elmhurst Hospital in New York City, which is really the epicenter of this pandemic. We realized early on that this public health crisis will affect everyone eventually. That’s when we had the idea to use our apparel manufacturing and distribution prowess to get a mask to every single person in the U.S.”
DHVANI’s core business is the design, manufacture and sale of athleisure apparel, some of which is made from recycled materials. This includes its Terra collection, which is made of fabric derived from recycled plastic bottles. The company refers to itself as an activ(ist)wear leisure brand, applying its #standforsomething mission to all of its marketing.
“We’re big fans of technology and data,” Brown noted. “But ultimately, connecting with people on an emotional level transcends platforms. Having an authentic mission is everything. People who care about our environment and are doing their part when making purchasing decisions get it immediately. That said, we dig deep into any and all data we can get our hands on from the various tools in our marketing stack.”
Brown and DHVANI have been overwhelmed by the response to the campaign. It has taken some resources away from day-to-day manufacturing operations, which has led to delays with certain fabrics.
“We’re seeing solid support from our customers, which has been incredible,” he said. “I know we see tension in the news daily, but everyone we talk to has been incredibly kind and supportive toward one another since the crisis began. It’s truly beautiful to see.”
Brown also thinks the crisis will change the world of fashion. He looks for a “pandemic chic” movement that will provide consumers with masks and other protective gear while still supporting their individual style.
DHVANI is no stranger to philanthropic activism. Earlier this year, the brand launched its Buy One, Plant One initiative to support the reforestation of Australia's 8.8 million acres of burned brush. And in an effort to reduce plastic pollution in oceans, DHVANI recently announced its new Terra leggings and sports bras, which are made from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.
"Every tree we plant removes about 48 pounds of carbon from our atmosphere per year. One acre of trees planted removes 2.5 tons," Brown pointed out. "We want to empower our customers to be change-makers who have a direct and measurable impact."
The “pandemic chic” charity movement has also attracted other companies. Love Your Melon, a mission-driven apparel brand that gives 50 percent of its profits to pediatric cancer, announced this week that it has sent over 150,000 face masks to frontline workers and hospitals. Love Your Melon has also pivoted its manufacturing model to produce over 300,000 face masks for sale to date, and is focused on sending the donated versions to areas with the biggest shortages and to children and families battling cancer. After selling out quickly after its April 10 launch, the mask collection was restocked and made available for purchase again on April 27.