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.

Rhoback victory mask

The apparel company Rhoback shifted its production to make masks like the one above to slow the spread of coronavirus.

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.

Matt (MBA ’16) and Kristina Loftus (MBA’ 17) founded Rhoback, a high-end sportswear line, at Darden.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Press Contact

David Hendrick
Associate Director, Editorial & Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia