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Masks Made by Makers

Nest Guild Artisans and Makers Answer the Call

While those of us who are not healthcare professionals or other essential workers are embracing our role of staying home to ‘flatten the curve’ and limit the spread of COVID-19, artisan businesses across the Nest Guild representing over 700 micro and small businesses worldwide (impacting over 1MM individuals) are producing hand-manufactured masks and other PPE for the service and safety of their local communities. Finding themselves in the new role of essential workers, these artisan businesses are retrofitting their workshops into safe headquarters from which to produce masks, procuring the necessary raw materials and training their workers in this new craft to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, all while bringing their unique design sensibility to bear.

Within the Nest Guild, makers and artisans from Africa, Asia, and the US have swiftly pivoted their production to answer the call for more masks. These hand-manufactured face coverings are in high-demand by the public as the CDC recommends covering one’s mouth and nose with non-medical grade masks in a dual effort to reduce virus transmission and ensure critically-low stocks of hospital-grade masks are reserved for medical professionals. But artisans and makers aren’t just pulling white cotton out of the storeroom to sew their masks from, they’re repurposing hand-loomed and dyed fabrics previously destined for one-of-a-kind pillow cases and scarves, or milled-fabrics once earmarked for spring 2020 ready-to-wear collections, and turning them into masks that do as much good style-wise as they do social good. 


Masks Become New Fashion Reality

Alabama Chanin

Made from artisanal fabrics like naturally-dyed cotton and TENCEL™ from Indonesia as seen on masks by SukkhaCitta, Poetic Threads block prints and patchwork from India, Indigo Handloom’s ikat and Ayurvedic-dyed masks made from handloomed organic cotton, Ziran’s reversible silk face masks made from sustainable and anti-microbial xiang yun sha silk, Majoie Maldive’s botanically-dyed silks from the Maldives, and sleek unisex knit varieties manufactured in New York by local designer M.Patmos, these artisan-made masks take this now essential accessory out of hospital corridors and construction sites and into the realm of personal style. By injecting color and thoughtful finishes, these masks also offer wearers an opportunity to project personality and an uplifting sentiment in place of a smile. (Plus, there is a style out there to match each pajama set you own–the globe’s new work-from-home uniform!).

For many artisan businesses, making masks is a welcomed call to action. While production is grounded and businesses have materials lying fallow, employees are eager to use their skills to earn income in these uncertain times. What’s more, artisan businesses are uniquely positioned to take on this call to action. Not only have they long embraced business “pivots,” nimbly adapting production, sales, and marketing strategies to stay relevant in ever-changing retail climates, being responsive to inconsistent local supplies of raw materials, and staying profitable with razor-thin margins, but the workforce is accustomed to producing from their homes. They have pre-existing systems in place for remote communication and quality-control checks via WhatsApp and other virtual methods, and are experienced in shipping directly from producer to consumer. 


Mask-Making Generates Much Needed Employment

Custom Collaborative

However, mobilizing grass-root production efforts is challenging at the best of times and artisan businesses are facing new hurdles as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, not the least of which is how to keep employees healthy and safe. Some business founders are operating as one or two-person skeleton teams and are going into workshops alone to ship online orders, receive and quarantine shipments, and safely distribute new materials to at-home seamstresses and tailors so they can continue sewing masks. Others have undertaken intensive disinfecting protocols, reduced on-site employee numbers, and instituted mandates for wearing masks and keeping work stations at least six-feet apart. In countries like India where local infrastructure is disrupted by complete lockdown, businesses have stocks of finished masks but no way to ship them out or receive new materials for continued production for the time being. 

Open for Business

For those with safe methods of production and reliable distribution channels, online sales of hand-manufactured masks are generating much needed employment and income. This is a trial by fire for artisan businesses as they rise to supply demand, but one with potential long-term impact as trends indicate that consumers may adopt masks as a stalwart accessory in changing times. Setting the foundation for successfully producing masks now could be an indication of artisan business’ future ability to sustainably produce in-demand products, and could have lasting employment and revenue impacts as masks take a potentially permanent place among standard merchandise mixes.

This new reality is ever-present across social media where artisan businesses caption photos with inspiring updates on their decisions to pivot to mask-making alongside existential questions about the state of society at large and the lasting impact this will have, including on the products we make and purchase. Talaya Champion, founder of Alabama-based Guild-member business, Elidia the Label, captioned a recent Instagram post which pictures herself wearing a stylish mask she made while holding one of her signature minimalist leather handbags, with, “A portrait of what it feels like to sell fashion accessories to the world right now. Starting to feel that creative spark again, but wondering what designing for the new world will look like. How will we have changed as a society and how will my business respond to that? These are all things I am turning over in my head lately.”

Elidia the Label

Nest works nationally and internationally with micro and small businesses facing the massive economic impacts of the global crisis, many of whom are women supporting entire households and living paycheck to paycheck. Despite their limited financial and material resources, small businesses are now being called to the front lines of production with shortages of PPE being reported across the world. 

We invite you to support small businesses and the livelihoods of the artisans and makers who own them, while doing your part to ‘flatten the curve’ by purchasing a hand-manufactured mask from a Nest Guild business. 

Here are a few options:

Alabama Chanin Mask Alabama Chanin
Made in Alabama
$12 adult



Custom CollaborativeCustom Collaborative
Made in New York
$20 adult



Elidia the LabelElidia the Label
Made in Alabama
$20 adult



Ellie Fun DayEllieFunday
Made in California
$17 childrens / $20 adult



Eswatini Artisan Collaboration MasksEswatini Artisan Collaboration
Made in eSwatini
$5 adult (minimum order of 25pcs)



Indigo HandloomIndigo Handloom
Fabric Made in India, Stitched in California
$18 kit / $30 adult



Majoie MaldivesMajoie Maldives
Made in the Maldives
$45 set of 2 adult



M.Patmos MaskM.Patmos
Made in New York
$28 adult / $54 set of 2 adult / $104 set of 4 adult



Poetic Threads MaskPoetic Threads
Fabric Made in India, Stitched in New Mexico
$20 adult



Quetarshe Textiles
Made in Detroit
$20 adult
Order via Instagram



Made in Indonesia
$17-18 set of 2 adult



Tonle MaskTonlé
Made in Cambodia
$50 set of 10 adult



Tribal Textiles maskTribal Textiles
Made in Zambia
$15 adult / $25 adult set of 3 / $20 childrens set of 3



Vickery Trading Co MaskVickery Trading Co.
Made in Texas
$12 adult / $10 childrens



Ziran MaskZiran
Made in California
$45 adult