Thursday, July 30, 2020

Covid-19 Quarantine Day 139: Where Have All the Masks Gone?

Even the trees are shocked!
When the pandemic first started, right before we went into quarantine, Mike and I went to the supermarket and saw one or two people wearing masks. Everyone stared at them as they walked by. 

But 139 days later, Mike and I finally took a chance at going into a grocery store, and I was relieved to see that everyone wore masks. Then we saw ONE woman NOT wearing a mask. Everyone stared at HER. I honestly don't know how she was allowed in the store. 

During an 8-mile hike on Mount Greylock last weekend, Mike and I came across another couple on the trail. We pulled up our IllumiNITE MultiWraps to cover our nose and mouth and stepped off the path to let the other couple pass.

They said: "Thank you for wearing masks." 

The new IllumiNITE MultiWrap keeps us cool, dry, and safe
when we encounter other hikers!

We said: "Thank YOU for wearing masks."

The woman said: "We wear masks to keep US safe, and to keep YOU safe. I don't understand why some people don't!"

These two experiences made me think about my friends at IllumiNITE who have been making masks for essential workers since the pandemic shut everything down, and then found inventive ways to make new products versatile to double as mask-wearing. I'm impressed with how quickly they rallied despite the many obstacles the coronavirus has created. So I decided to sit down with them and talk about their mask-making ventures.

How many face masks has IllumiNITE made for hospitals and other essential workers? How many people are making masks? 

Model wearing IllumiNITE Neck Scruff in Black
Photo courtesy of IllumiNITE
We made about 30,000 masks. Our factory collaborated with several companies from Rhode Island and South Eastern Massachusetts to get the mask production up and running as quickly as possible. Most of the masks were sold to essential businesses and some were donated to certain non-profit organizations in and around Providence, RI. These were not FDA approved masks, so we didn’t feel comfortable selling to hospitals directly. 

As IllumiNITE, we developed face coverings that combine the best of IllumiNITE reflective technology with a functional product for our active customers. We know how hard it can be to wear a mask while exercising! We designed our MultiWrap with that in mind. We have about 40 people in the whole operation and about 16–20 stitchers. 

Who is the fastest mask maker? Do you have friendly competitions? 

All of our stitchers have their own area of expertise and we work collaboratively. Since many of our stitchers are already related (sisters, sister-in-laws, etc), we don’t need any more (friendly) competition. 

How have your business practices changed since the pandemic started? What new processes have you adapted? What positives have come out of changing the way you do business?

IllumiNITE designers making masks
Photo courtesy of IllumiNITE
It has certainly been challenging finding our best practices. We have, of course, taken up social distancing. Fortunately, due to the size of our factory, this was not a big challenge as all workstations were already 6 feet apart. Certain office people have been working from home and are slowly starting to come back to the office. We clean daily and have sanitizer all over the place. Masks need to be worn in all common areas. We currently don’t allow any visitors without an appointment. One big positive that came out of this is the manufacturing community in Fall River coming together to help each other and to pool our resources to make PPE of all kinds. It’s heartwarming to know that we have such a great community around us. 

What is something that’s surprised you during this pandemic?

How quickly we could turn things around to start manufacturing masks. From design to production—something that should have taken months!—we managed to do in weeks. It was challenging to shift focus so quickly, but we knew it needed to be done and done quickly. 

It was a big 180 for our IllumiNITE team to put on pause our new fall and winter development in order to devote all our energy into developing and producing PPE. 

What advice would you give independent, local businesses at this time? What advice would you give customers?

To other small businesses: Know that everyone is struggling right now to find their way safely through these crazy times. No one has the perfect answer, but we need to come together as a community and help each other out. 

To customers: Please support all your local businesses. IllumiNITE is fortunate to be based online. However, all the brick and mortar stores, bars, and restaurants out there are really struggling and need your support in any way you can, now more than ever. Thank you for your support through these times.

IllumiNITE Featherlite Packable Jacket

Have you been able to start designing a new fall/winter line? What is something that IllumiNITE customers can look forward to in the coming months? Any new product or design you’re hoping to implement soon or are working on?

We do have some new products coming out in the fall. We are doing a Packable collection as well as designing new colors with new and improved fabric in some of our best sellers for men and women.

In the next two weeks, we are going to release a new Day Bright Wicking Short Sleeve Shirt for Men and Women. We have a lot of ideas for this coming winter and spring, and we hope that we are able to get them all done! 

I LOVE my Featherlite Packable Jacket. I cannot wait to see new products in the Packable line! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to inform readers about mask-making and business during this unprecedented time.

These are scary times we're living in, and I don't quite understand why some people are so against
wearing masks. We don't protest the rule "No shirt, no shoes, no service." We don't protest the speed limit while driving. And, we don't protest other societal rules, such as getting our bags searched before entering concerts, sporting events, and other large-crowd gatherings. We all want the economy to recover, and independent businesses are a big part of that. The best way to bounce back is to buy local and wear masks while out in public to keep us all safe. Please wear a mask so this pandemic can end and we all can move forward with our lives.

As an incentive, use my discount code Sera15 to receive 15% off your entire IllumiNITE order, including the MultiWrap,  which is so versatile it can be used as a hat, a headband, a face covering, or a scarf!

Watch the video to see how!

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