Adaptable. Light on its feet. That's what a small business is able to be.
When this whole pandemic thing began to heat up in our country, I saw the writing on the wall pretty early. Because one of my adult dance students is a nurse and is married to a doctor, I heard what was coming directly from the front lines and we began wearing masks early, in the studio.
When the stay at home orders were initiated, like so many others, I wanted to do something productive that might help reduce the spread and help people. My friends provided me with a hospital mask to dissect and some valuable advice, when it came to design and fit. They said being able to tie the mask gave a more snug and more comfortable fit, and ties that were stretchy would be even better.
Next, we needed to get our hands on high quality cotton fabric. By the end of March, I was texting with a local fabric warehouse, Nick Of Time. Marc was eager to help, and even donated our first run of fabrics to help get the project started. The tight-weave all-cotton fabric, available in dozens of colors and prints, was in stock. Since Nick of Time was just down the street, I was able to pick up in person as soon as Marc was able to obtain a waiver to let him into his building to meet the growing demand for cotton fabric from around the country.
After hand-cutting a few dozen straps from my own stock of stretchy performance fabrics, my hands ached. But I knew who to call next. Key Binding was another local shop that had come through for me over many years. Steve took all my long rolls of 60" stretchy fabric and sliced them into dozens of small rolls to be able to quickly assemble the ties. He left the rolls in boxes. The community was coming together. Grateful for all the help, I left bags of masks outside the factory door for Steve's crew, and dropped off masks for Marc.
I struggled with locating something appropriate for nose wires, and the first masks sported garden wire from Lowes (I apologize if you got one of those masks, because the wires were a bit heavy on the nose! ). I finally settled on something I found online, and scooped up before they were all sold out. The same was true for the third layer of our masks, the interfacing. I was lucky to have secured that as well, before the source dried up. I found something that gave the masks structure as well as more filtration, and a water resistant feature.
We started a Go Fund Me campaign to cover material and production costs so we could donate masks to needy health care organizations. Starting with a goal of $500, generous donors raised the amount of nearly $5,000! My personal goal had been to sew 500 masks, but then entered ... JAMIE CRISTALI!
Jamie was a seamstress, a tutu maker, and a dance costume designer. She had come to me for private Pilates reformer sessions just a couple of months before the pandemic started. As it turned out, meeting her was like looking straight into a mirror. So many of her experiences were close to my own.
She was also a former dancer, having attended my alma mater the University of North Carolina Performing Arts, or NCSA. We even had enjoyed the same favorite teachers there.Needless to say, we chatted as much as we worked, during those first few Pilates sessions. So when the mask project began and I asked her to help, I hadn't even finished my sentence before she yelled a resounding YES!
In order to protect our families, we met only in open spaces, while social distancing and wearing masks. We shared patterns, thread, fabrics, and notions on picnic tables and managed curbside pickups. We sent videos to one another, creating and sharing ways to streamline the process.
Meanwhile, we were also reaching out to find those needing masks donations. One of those recipients was none other than Jamie's sister, a nurse whose medical colleagues were so hard at work on the front lines in the Midwest. We've donated to hospitals, nursing homes, under-funded clinics and neighbors in need. And it's been a rewarding labor of love for us.
We had already talked about working together in some capacity, but it took a pandemic to nudge us into action.
Besides the more than a thousand masks donated, we've sold dozens of packages of masks online to customers and repeat customers. The photos and stories you have shared with us are truly heartwarming.
With Pennsylvania carefully opening up and our stay at home orders lifting at the end of next week, our mask project is now drawing to a close. Our last donations will be heading out to the Navajo Nation, who have been hard hit. Instead of 500 masks, Jamie and I have made over 2,000. There are a million different shapes and styles of masks out there now, and so we feel at ease turning our focus back to apparel and meeting the needs of our regular customers as well as reaching out to new ones.
Thank you all for your support during this time for us and for our project, and for your willingness to WEAR MASKS to flatten the curve.
Let's hope things get back to normal SOON!