In our new abnormal, face masks have suddenly surged to new status. What was once primarily a hospital accessory is now a pandemic staple, not unlike Lysol wipes. The only problem is actually getting your scrubbed, sanitized hands on one.
In early April, Canada’s chief public health officer Theresa Tam issued new guidance that we should consider wearing face masks while out in public, at least to protect the people around us, if not ourselves. But unless you’re willing to rendezvous with illegal Craigslist sellers, buying a highly protective N95 mask is actually impossible—not to mention unethical—so the next best thing is a non-surgical cloth mask.
Luckily, our local designers in Vancouver have revved up their sewing machines to respond to the surging demand.
Fashion designer Jason Matlo is well known for high-end bespoke and made-to-measure clothes crafted in his Gastown atelier, but he pivoted when the pandemic hit. When Matlo’s friend alerted him to an initiative called Mutual Aid Vancouver, an entity that lends a hand with grocery delivery and medication pickup for locals in need, he launched a GoFundMe page with the express purpose of making masks and visor units for those volunteers on the front lines.
And this week, Matlo started making masks for the general public as well. “Everyone wants a mask and no one can get one,” he says.
He consulted with his physician to ensure size and shape were correct: “if you can blow through the mask and make a flame flicker, it’s not tight enough.”
Four adult masks and one child’s version debuted online today and offer a bespoke designer’s touch: from Backstage Pass covered in a guitar pattern to New Normal in black with white stripe, each mask with ties features the designer’s name stitched on the side.
The LBD mask—an all-black nod to that closet staple, the little black dress—will never go out of style, just like its namesake. Which is probably a good thing. “When we go back to regular life, people will still be wearing masks,” Matlo predicts. “This is the new normal.”
Meanwhile, Casey Lamb of KSLAM Clothing, a local line specializing in sustainable fashion, threw herself into the mask-making efforts in late March well before Dr. Tam jumped on board. With challenges sourcing new fabric from closed suppliers, Lamb resorted to using the cotton materials she already had on hand. She adds a double lining and adjustable straps for a comfortable fit.
“I wanted them to be something that was protective, along with a bit of a fashion statement,” she says. Masks are $25 and all proceeds go to the food bank.
“The experience has been rewarding as it allows people to be able to experience my custom clothing that otherwise they may not have been able to afford,” she adds. “It’s also been amazing to be able to give back, even if it is in a small way, as it feels selfish for me to capitalize in a time that is affecting so many individuals so negatively.”
Likewise, when the pandemic hit, Andrea Wong of AW by Andrea Wong, a local handmade accessories line, found that no one was buying handcrafted leather bags, so she started to make masks for her friends.
Suddenly, she couldn’t make enough cloth masks. She put a call out to her Instagram followers to see if anyone else would be interested in her handmade masks: after 300 quick responses, she had to shut down the list of takers for fear of not being able to meet demand.
“Response was way more than I thought,” she says. “But it’s really hard to ramp up production during a pandemic because not all fabric is available, elastic is hard to come by, as well as sewers.”
Each mask takes almost half an hour to craft so once fabric and materials are factored in, their $20 price tag becomes more of a public service in her view. But that hasn’t deterred her. “My main aim is to keep everyone safe,” she says. Masks start at $20 each, but are $10 for those who have been financially affected by the crisis and can’t afford the retail price, or free for those in need who contact her directly for a code.
“It’s a testament to local domestic protection and shows what we can do entrepreneurially with local businesses,” she adds.
Wong has a handful of few masks left on her website, but is letting them sell out so she can catch up on orders. She’ll add more when production starts up again in two weeks’ time.
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