As the supply of medical masks dwindles, some local business owners are stepping up to help the communities they serve and meet the changing demands of their consumer base.
Waste Less Apparel, a zero textile waste online boutique, typically sells reworked thrifted clothing and handmade items. But recently, rather than advertising her products, Melly Reyes, the shop’s owner, has posted instructional videos teaching how to sew medical masks.
She posts the videos on the shop’s Instagram account, @wasteless_apparel. Her motto has been “create and donate” as she urges others to start sewing for their local hospitals.
“I wanted to do something that was helpful in a time that kind of felt helpless,” Reyes said.
For Reyes, an MSU alumna, sewing has been a comfort during the midst of the pandemic, so she figured other people at home might benefit from learning the technique and feel good knowing they can use the skill to assist their community.
So far, Melly has made around 300 masks to be donated to a local hospital. Many hospitals are currently or soon to be in need of medical masks and are now accepting donations.
“One person can make a tiny difference, but if we all collectively do it together, it makes a huge difference and it helps out the medical facilities,” Reyes said.
The masks being donated are not surgical masks, but they can provide an extra layer of protection for health care workers and increase the longevity of surgical masks in the event hospitals run out entirely. They are washable and reusable unlike other medical masks.
Lauren Hustead, junior marketing major, is another local entrepreneur who has begun selling medical masks.
Hustead is the owner of Craftive Co., a brand that mainly sells women’s accessories.
Over the past few weeks, however, she shifted her focus from scrunchies and headbands to medical masks.
Hustead became aware of the need for more masks when her aunt, a registered nurse, told her about the impending shortages.
After that, she began selling reversible, washable masks about three weeks ago. In the first week alone she produced around 300 masks.
Once the pandemic hit, Hustead said she saw a drastic decline in orders for her usual products as people were buying fewer non-essential items. Now she has been fulfilling a different need for her customers.
“I have a lot of customers that are able to come to me to make new products and to fix problems that they have and obviously, this is a huge problem right now for so many people,” Hustead said.
Though she has received many orders and gotten mostly positive feedback, Hustead has been criticized by a few on Instagram for selling masks rather than donating them.
Hustead said while she understands their point of view, she is a small business trying to generate income for herself.
“I would give anything to be able to donate all of these masks, but I just can't,” Hustead said. “I wish that they would be able to see it from more of a business standpoint.”
Hustead’s focus has not been providing health care workers or patients with masks, but giving access to masks for everyday people.
“People with frontline jobs, they're still interacting with people every day,” Hustead said. “So that's what we're trying to push for, to have them be able to buy and to protect themselves while they're still working every day.”
Hustead used to conduct all orders for products on Craftive Co.’s website but now she has been taking orders for masks through Instagram DM to keep her service as personal as possible.
“It's almost like I can interact with them more on a person-to-person level rather than them just selecting something and putting it in their cart,” Hustead said.
The way Reyes conducts business has changed as well. Reyes has gotten creative to keep up inventory for her online store. Many of her products are upcycled items she gets from thrift stores, but now those stores have closed.
Since the closures began, Reyes has used her existing stock of secondhand items to rework. Soon, she will be “going back to her roots” and creating clothing from scratch using new fabrics.
Still, the excess fabric she uses to create new clothing items can be made into colorful medical masks.
Reyes and Hustead both encourage people to create their own masks if they can do so.
“Go for it,” Hustead said. “There's such a need right now in the country.”
Hustead said to find a tutorial and make do with the supplies you have access to.
“I've been pushing to create these masks if you can, and help donate, because the more help we have, the easier it is for them to take control of this whole situation,” Reyes said.
CoxHealth in Springfield is one local hospital accepting donations. Those looking to donate at the hospital can call 417-269-7150 or 417-269-7109 for curbside pickup or may go inside to drop off items at CoxHealth Medical South.
Similarly, Jo-Ann Fabrics is offering free kits to make masks, gowns and other essential items.