Making Masks in the Coronavirus Pandemic

After 25 years on Kennedy Blvd in Tampa, FL, we closed our storefront.

The last time you might have heard from us, we were closing the store and moving to a new building. We felt like we were rushing against the clock trying to empty out our space and get into our new location before our area was placed on lockdown. My goals were to keep working, get the office organized  and plan out the new and improved store – but like all of you, our plans had been placed on hold for a bit.

Many were uncertain what was to come in the following days. Families were figuring out their new life structures while juggling work and home schooling. Businesses were being asked to close. Employers were dealing with the dilemmas of whether they could continue paying their employees. Everyone was trying to figure out their new role in this pandemic mess.

All of the sudden, masks were appearing all over my social feeds. Pictures of masks being made around the world and being sent off to first responders and healthcare workers who desperately needed them due to a mass shortage. Videos of how-to make masks were being shared all across Facebook and Instagram so people could learn to make their own. Fabric companies started donating materials to keep the masses sewing. This is all continued to inspire many others to pull out their sewing machines, dust them off and stores began to sell out.

Maria Julia, who has worked for Marcela, Inc. for 20 years, sewing a mask.

This is when I realized our new purpose. I knew we had these materials, we had the elastic, the cotton, the non-woven fabrics and I had my employees who I didn’t want to let go. The ladies who work for us have seen me grow up since my mother built this company over 30 years ago. We all had a new purpose. I could keep my girls working, they could work from home with their families and we would now create masks to give back to our community – the one that has supported us the last 30 years.

Testing out different shapes and testing out foil to use a nose bridge.

Face masks were quickly coming into demand and we had to act fast. While we were still able to work before the government would place a lockdown on us, I scoured the internet watching video after video and learning about what materials worked well and consulted with my team. We created samples of different styles. We learned the pleated cloth kind were needed by healthcare workers to help prolong the life of their N95’s. We learned that adding a non-woven material in between layers of cotton would help create filters in the masks.

Maria fitting the filter fabric inside one layer of the mask.

We regularly face timed with my mom, our founder, Marcela, who had not left her home in weeks. She would provide us with feedback on the mask designs and I’d model the masks for her.

We tried our best to learn all we could about masks in four short days so we too could jump in and get our masks into the hands of those who needed them. I told my mom friends about how we began making masks to donate and I was proud to show off the design during one of our group chats. From there, mom after mom asked if they could purchase one. I began to worry that selling masks would take away from the ones that needed to be made for donation, for people who really needed them. But little did I know, that within a day or maybe it was even hours, that suddenly it seemed like everyone needed them.

N95 Mask Covers made for donation.

We made the decision to create two types of masks. One mask we could produce so that we could donate to healthcare organizations and communities in need. The other type we would sell. With this plan in action, I would be able to continue paying my girls, my family and bring a new purpose to our company.

My family testing out the face masks.

We found our place and we have a fire lit under our butts. After more than 10 years, I’ve started to sew again and have never felt more motivated and inspired by all those who have gone out and bought a sewing machine, started their own sewing groups, created videos and tutorials to share with others around the world and changed their business facilities to start making masks. We’re ready to join this party and we’re here to make masks.

With our new process in place, it keeps us home and working. I plan one or two days picking up the masks and shipping them out. From here on out for as long as it takes, we’ll be sewing these masks.

Marcela featured at home sewing masks that will be donated at the end of each week.

To get more information on the masks we’re making and how to purchase one, you can check it out here.

Stay safe and wear a mask.


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