If there’s one thing we know about COVID-19, it’s that we don’t know much. We don’t know how long a vaccine will take, how long our sanity will survive, or even how long the latest restrictions will last. What we do know is that we should all wear masks to help stop the spread of the virus.
Matlo’s sewing machines haven’t stopped humming since his first batch in April prompted a thousand more orders from BC Hydro, among many other customers.
With a second wave upon us and no end in sight, Matlo decided to step up his game again this fall with a new Premium mask collection.
“I’ll make a pretty mask if it means more people will wear them to be safe,” he says.
The new handcrafted line includes embroidered flowers, black lace, and even a Swarovski crystal version. Because the elastics around the ears can irritate, Matlo added tiny rubber attachments that allow the user to adjust the tension.
“I can wear one for eight hours now,” the designer says. “It makes my hair look like a crazy person, but constant mask-wearing and lockdown strips you of your vanity.”
In keeping with the latest recommendation from our country’s top public health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, Matlo’s masks have included three layers of fabric from day one.
“The physician we worked with thought it was a bad idea to be touching your mask with your fingers, which is why we started with three layers,” he explains. “With three tightly woven panels of 100 per cent natural cotton already sewn together, you wouldn’t have to then insert a filter.”
Matlo Atelier will unveil a more traditionally masculine premium mask later this week as well—a heavy sportswear jersey mesh version that serves as homage to a dress collection he designed in an optical mesh. “It’s very textural, 3D and sci-fi,” he says.
Like Matlo, local leather goods designer Andrea Wong also pivoted her business this past spring to make 100 per cent cotton masks, which she would then deliver to clients by lowering a basket from the balcony of her third-floor studio.
“Even though we didn’t really know why or understand the how of it all back then, I’ve always social-distanced and included a filter pocket in my mask designs,” she says. “We know more now than before.”
Wong now creates her own elastic from a high-end technical fabric that creates a softer, rounder feeling behind the ears and has added original leatherwork to her look. She has also added leather facemask holders—similar to the more ubiquitous chain style—to help keep your mask handy and accessible when it’s not on your face.
Tam’s new recommendation for three-layer masks doesn’t mean you have to throw out your old masks, Wong advises. “You can make your own filter by cutting up paper towels or coffee filters,” she explains. “If you think of cotton as a very fine basket weave—paper towels are compressed fibres—it’s a different way to create a sheet for greater protection.”
With a background in fashion design and textiles, she feels confident encouraging her clients to add a third layer of filtered barrier. In the past, she’s designed everything from parkas to intimates but never something for the face. “But I’m a textile nerd,” she laughs. “I’ve studied how materials are put together with a magnifying glass.”
The challenge of designing masks for different shapes—how wide a face is, or nose or chin—has all been part of the learning process for this designer. “I feel very grateful and lucky to have been able to pivot my business,” she says. “It feels good to be able to do something that helps the community.” She’s also grateful to the people who continue to seek out handcrafted, local businesses to support, including boutiques she wholesales to such as Walrus and Much + Little.
Wong has since moved to a new studio with a ground-floor outbuilding. Instead of balcony delivery by basket, she now serves through a window by paddle. “I pass your order to you on a paddle through a window … like a drive-through,” she says. “It ensures safety and distance.”
KuverUp director Jane Hodge and her business partner, Kendra Wiess, produced their first mask prototype with a local sewing house in mid-March while many of us were still wondering whether we could salvage our spring break plans.
“I was talking with a girlfriend at the time and she said, ‘We’re all going to have to wear a mask to protect ourselves,’” Hodge remembers. “I thought, well, they better be first protective but also fashionable.”
By April 1, Vancouver-based KuverUp had launched its masks online. Demand was so brisk that the duo soon ramped up to producing 5,000 masks in April. Since then, they’ve produced 15,000 masks, all locally made.
Each mask is lined with 100 per cent organic cotton, with an outer layer in silk, sequins, linen, velvet, or cotton. And KuverUp just launched Links, or mask chains, with both masks and chains now sold at more than 40 local retailers and online.
Despite its explosive success, the team made an early commitment to donate as many masks as possible; 6,000 have been donated thus far, with 2,500 sent to New York’s police department during the peak of their COVID crisis in April. The company continues to support local organizations here in Vancouver, as well.
Meanwhile, Saje Wellness’s simple, elegant masks are made with soft, organic, breathable cotton and come with adjustable straps.
Better known for its aromatherapy lines, Saje is normally predicated on the interplay of scent and wellness. Though masks can obscure our sense of smell, they are also a key tool in preventing the virus’ transmission, so the designers at Saje decided to develop their own line.
The B.C.-based brand wanted to create a face covering based on its employees’ needs: one they could comfortably wear all day, while still being able to smell the essential oils surrounding them.
And for every mask purchased, the company donates a disposable one to the fight against COVID, in addition to making financial donations to CanadaHelps COVID-19 Healthcare & Hospital Fund, First Responders First: Supporting Healthcare Workers in the Fight Against Coronavirus, and First Responders Children’s Foundation in the U.S.
Like many local restaurants, Café Medina is getting creative to weather these challenging times. Having recently launched its Medina After Dark dinner series to avoid its legendary long brunch lines, Medina has now introduced a new addition to the menu: custom-made masks.
Medina’s team, including owner Robbie Kane, GM Jenna Briscoe, and chef Christopher West, launches its new printed-in-Canada face coverings this week.
In Medina’s signature dark brown and printed with a robin’s egg blue waffle pattern, the two-layer masks come with a filter pocket and adjustable rubber ear loops to create the perfect, comfortable fit.