Why Was George W. Bush Wearing That Mask From Darden Alumni-Founded Rhoback at the Inauguration?
By Jay Hodgkins
Inauguration Day in the United States is always a star-studded affair, and despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and heightened security concerns, this year was no different, with appearances from performers Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks; past U.S. presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; and a multitude of members of Congress and Washington, D.C., elites.
Given all the pomp and circumstance, Inauguration Day is also known as the capital’s most fashionable day (though Senator Bernie Sanders launched 1,000 internet memes with his own unique take on inauguration fashion).
With so much focus on fashion, from Bernie’s mittens to Lady Gaga’s enormous skirt and gilded dove brooch, you might have noticed the particularly dapper mask adorned by former President George W. Bush. If it looked familiar, perhaps you’re already familiar with Rhoback, the stylish activewear company founded by University of Virginia Darden School of Business alumni Matt (MBA ’16) and Kristina Loftus (MBA ’17).
When the coronavirus pandemic struck in March, Rhoback decided to help, shifting production rapidly to produce and sell “Victory Masks” at cost. With such a shortage of masks in the early days, the company quickly took orders for more than 200,000 masks, and its good deed was repaid with the kind of national recognition a retail brand can only dream of getting.
The company took shape on the Darden Grounds as a member of the 2017 i.Lab Incubator program (now known as VP(x)2), where the instructor of Darden’s “Venture Velocity” course, Damon DeVito, served as their mentor. When mask orders vastly exceeded expectations last spring, the Loftuses turned to Darden connections to help. The idled events team at The Club at Glenmore, which DeVito owns, and Darden international students stranded locally in the pandemic’s early days pitched in to help them fulfill orders.
DeVito texted Matt Loftus during the inauguration to ask how Bush came to wear the Rhoback mask at the big event. The answer?
“It was an incredible surprise! Our eyes were glued on the TV,” Loftus texted back.
“My heart is warmed knowing that they have reached that level,” DeVito said.
From an idea born at Darden to i.Lab startup to small apparel retailer to helping keep the 43rd President of the United States healthy and safe during one of the U.S. government’s most sacred traditions — it has been a wild few years for Rhoback and its Darden alumni founders.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have the most supportive community, especially all of our Darden classmates, that has allowed us to give back while we grow,” Kristina Loftus said.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia