Since I last posted, I have been extremely busy. I have been sewing masks and filling orders from around the world. I am taking some time out to write this post while some orders wait for me to return. I did not expect for this level of orders coming in. I’ve been getting some days where it is like 10 to 12 orders, and I cannot keep up. I’ve had some days where I had to stop sewing so that I could source supplies in anticipation of running out.

©2020 by Andrea Mai. All rights reserved.

I timed it one day, to see how long it takes to sew a mask. With the pieces already cut and some pieces pre-assembled, it takes me about 45 minutes, if all the prep work was done. So I estimate that without the prep, it would be more like an hour per mask. There is additional time to package and send out the orders. In a day, I could do 6 make, but ti would be a struggle to do more because I have other things to do, of course! When I am not sewing, I am doing prep. I find myself working from morning to tis night before I go to bed.

©2020 by Andrea Mai. All rights reserved.

A small miracle can make a big differences. 
I found that bed linens make the best linings for the masks. They have a high thread count and have a good thickness. I had some pieces cut up from brand new sheets leftover from making a duvet cover and I used them to make linings for my initial batches of masks. They happened to be the perfect color to co-ordinate with the leopard print masks. But that was all I had left. I told my mother that I wished HomeeSense was open, so that I could buy discounted bedsheets. Then something urged me to look for these brand new pillow cases I found in a bag of random things given to us by a family friend last year. Brand new in its packaging. It said that it is 100% cotton. What a lifesaver! It was only because of this that I could continue to make masks! I know the spirits in my house must have been rummaging in the storage room as I searched top and bottom for apiece of cotton lining that I still cannot find.

Price “elasticity”.
I feel that it is my civic duty to participate in providing this service for others. I went to school for fashion design, and it has been a skill that I did not get to make much of a career out of. I feel it would be a waste if I choose to sit back doing nothing, instead of answering the call to make masks. As I have collected personal resources over the years: An industrial sewing machine that I inherited from an aunt who died of cancer. A collection of cotton fabrics stashed away. A personal supply of dressmaking tools and materials. A studio space already set up in my basement. I do not do it for the money, (though it is true, that art sales are less likely in these times, I must pivot), but I am most motivated to answer the call to serve others in this time of great need by offering my God-given talents for this challenging time in society.

Which is why I am so greatly disturbed and disappointed by the behaviours of venders. I bought two rolls of elastic on Amazon two weeks ago, in anticipation that I will need more. After producing almost 40 masks, I am at my last yards of quarter-inch elastic. My order has not yet arrived. I am growing very, as I do not know if this order will ever get here. In my past experience, some sellers have made false listings, so that you would pay them, but they would send you nothing, while you wait thinking that it is coming. Fraud like these are on the rise at these desperate times. I do not have time to waste. These make are waiting for its final touch, which is the elastic.

I decided that I needed a contingency plan. Instead of just waiting, I would try to source something more local, at least within Canada, so that the delivery time would be shorter, possibly arriving next week. I saw this ridiculous posting from Amazon. I think it is gone now, as I cannot find the listing. But still… the thought alone is revolting that anyone should attempt to sell a single roll elastic at $1,457.27. 

I thought, I will not deal with another third-party seller on Amazon, at least not for elastic, as I suspect that that they are all shipping from China and that will take ages to get here. Trying on Etsy, I find a seller, whose price is 3 times its worth wss  before corona, but it is still at a feasible price to use, and they are shipping from a province away. $120 for 150 yards with are shipping. I’d heard through the grapevine that wholesalers were selling rolls at $80 right before everything shut down. Still an inflated price. After I placed the order, I cheekily messaged her, “Thanks for not totally gouging the price”. I saw that others have asked for more. A few hours later I looked at her listing again, and she has ramped it up to $165. I feel sickened by this. She is also a mask maker. Two days later, I ams still bothered by this and it hasn’t shipped yet. I tell her that I saw her gouging and I don’t want to deal with her. I send her a screenshot of her inflated price. I ask for a refund. She refunds me immediately, no questions asked.

Everyone wants a piece of the pie.
An online retailer has approached me for “collaboration”. She tells me that she can see a market for “stylish masks” like nine. I asked to know what price she expects to sell the mask for. She answers, $10 USD. I was selling mine for $14. I tell her that it’s an impossible price to work with, due to the scarcity of materials, lack of available labour, and shipping expenses all mounting up. I asked her how does she expect to make a profit, as she would obviously want a higher profit margin for herself within the price point. I do not need a middle man to sell my wares, so that I can work more to receive less. I tell her that I do not have the time to deal with her.

People are seeing the pie that the makers are producing with their hard graft and creativity, and they want a piece of the pie without having to do the handwork involved. Whether it is to profit by gouging on supplies, or low balling the work of labourers. It is insulting to those who are doing the work.

I have no more elastic for orders right now as we speak.  But I refuse to quit. I could choose to just stop taking orders and wait for the elastic, but time is of the essence. People need make. Even when things re-open again, they will ned masks. I am working around the clock to produce them and ship them out as soon as I can.

Even in such ugly times, there is still beauty to be found.
I have always been obsessed with Liberty print fabric. I feel that they are truly the best, especially the classic Tana Lawn collection. Butt they are expensive. When I was in my mid-twnties living in England. I would venture out from Brighton on day trips to London. I could barely afford anything in Liberty. But there was this hidden treasure trove bin of fabric remnants sold at reduced prices. A quarter yard of a rose floral print, a little piece of a paisley print. I would buy whatever I could get my hands on. I made hair accessories for myself. Over the years, I have saved up these fabrics, as my personal collection, imagining what I would make with them.

©2020 by Andrea Mai. All rights reserved.

I have offered some of these fabrics for making masks. Some are actually my favourite of them all, but I feel that it is a worthy sacrifice to use them to create masks that people will love to wear. My greatest motivation for creating masks is that I want to take something that people dread wearing, and turn it into something of beauty, something that they could enjoy, or at least make it a little more bearable. I feel like a bad ass rock ‘n roller when I wear my leopard print one.This is where I think high fashion can serve a beneficial and worthy role in society. No longer a frivolous  whim of desire, but a life saving necessity for now and the future.

©2020 by Andrea Mai. All rights reserved.

When I package an order, I wrap it up as if it were a gift. I want the customer to feel that they have received something special. Especially in times like these. Small joys like these can make a world of difference. Beauty is the saving grace that makes life somewhat more bearable in times like these, something worth living for. When I am making these masks and styling them for photo shoots, I do not think of them like just a piece of utility. I feel like I am designing movie costumes. For these unprecedented times, wearing masks in public will likely become a necessary norm. I am creating masks to go with fashion. I am inspired by movies like Painted Veil, and Love in the Time of Cholerra, both movies taking place at the turn of the century during cholera outbreaks. I feel like life has become like a movie set. What the world has become, It does not feel real. I am imagining a historian sic-fi drama.

And you can call it vanity, but I know that there will always be people who still crave fashion even in the worst of times. Like a school girl customizing her school uniform, people will want masks to express their individuality. A love for, an appreciation for, a touch of beauty is what helps some of us get through these difficult times.

I imagine Who some of my customers are. Maybe they are a nurse needing a mask for when she’s off-due. Or a hairdresser or a make up artist preparing for when he goes back to work. Or a mom who needs a mask for when she goes to pick up groceries from the store.

I heard from one of my customers who received her masks. She told me that they fit perfectly, and that she will enjoy wearing these masks. That alone gives me great satisfaction.

Stay safe, everybody.

Image above: “Shadows” by Andrea Mai.

©2020 by Andrea Mai. All rights reserved.