Many of you may just be getting used to wearing masks when you leave the house. Here at My House, it is starting to sink in that I am now a mask manufacturer! Who would have thought a month ago, that this is what I would be doing today. In this time of uncertainty for so many people and businesses here in Hawaii, I have been one of the lucky ones to keep my business afloat while helping to serve my community at the same time. Alongside so many other wonderful local people, we are now sewing masks to pass the time in self isolation.
The Sundot Mask-Making Crew
This all started for me, because I wanted to make a reusable mask for my Bestie, Laura Rhuland. She is an ER Doctor at Hilo Medical Center on the Big Island alongside her husband Eddie. After I figured out how to make a mask, I couldn't stop there. I decided that I needed to make masks for all of my other friends who were on the Front Line of this strange time, working at hospitals and as medics on the Big Island. I had no idea what it would turn into.
After I got the idea to make a mask for my Bestie, I then realized that I needed to learn how to first sew a mask. I really haven't sewn anything more than a few pillows and the logos inside of our fish hats but I was determined to figure out how to get crafty to help protect my Bestie. Hearing about the shortages of PPE equipment across the US and worrying that could happen here in Hawaii, I knew I had to get an extra mask out to her as soon as possible.
Not long after I thought about trying to learn to sew, I thought of a girl here on O'ahu who I knew was an excellent seamstress. I had been virtual friends with Elene Nakama of Sandy Feet Hawaii for a few years and knew that eventually we would meet. I knew it was going to happen soon, because we now both lived on the same island of O'ahu. I sent Elene a message one morning (just days before the island wide stay-at-home-order was announced) saying how cool would it be if we sewed up a couple masks to donate to Front Line Workers. Little did I know she herself had already started sewing masks for the exact same reason! I asked her if I could come over to make masks with her. She said of course and we met on her doorstep for the first time. This was the beginning of what I'm sure will be a lifelong friendship.
Elene and I with our first facemask prototypes
The first Sundot Fish Mask
I don't sew very well (did I mention that yet) and I needed her to help teach me - which she did with a lot of patience and encouragement. And after two full days, I was able to finish my first mask prototype!
During that weekend, after we started posting on Instagram what we were spending our time doing, we both got bombarded with people asking us to sell our masks. Originally, both of us just wanted to do them for donations to our Health Care Workers. However, after getting invited to be a part of an Instagram group "Hawaii Mask Makers" and learning of the incredible demand around the entire State of Hawaii for reusable masks, we both realized we could not stop making masks. We both felt like we were in a modern war, united to help those at battle (which right now seems to be all of us in some type of way).
Cutting and prepping masks, Honolulu
By selling our masks to the general population and our already loyal customer base, we both realized that we could cover the costs of materials, time and shipping to continue to sew and provide masks to Font Line Workers.
You wouldn't believe it, but I now have a list for donations to be sent to the East Coast, throughout California and even in Australia. Although my priority is first to our Front Line Workers here in Hawaii, my sister is a nurse in Australia and they too are running low on supplies. Many of my customers come from Florida and California and Texas, many of them fishermen, and many of them with family that are Front Line Workers. We all know someone on the Front Lines, lets face it. Through mask-making I realized even more that the Sundot Ohana stretches all across the world and how grateful I am for my global community.
Sandy Feet Hawaii Masks are all so beautiful!
To limit the amount of time spent outside the house, I decided that I needed to use what supplies I had at home to make the masks. Luckily I have hundreds of flag blanks on hand (we finish the manufacturing of our Fish Flags here in Hawaii) and so figured I may as well use them! I put flag-making on hold and am now using our flag blanks as the front of our masks. I found some fabric around the house (doesn't everybody in Hawaii have some kind of fabric at home) and decided to start there.
Using a mix of Hawaiian fabrics
I wanted to make the Sundot masks stand out and represent the Sundot Brand. I knew that I wanted them to be of the finest quality, just like our Fish Flags.
Elene and I did a lot of research over those first two days. We tested our fabrics and styles in the washer and drier to ensure they could be continuously reused, safely.
After our first donation of masks to my Bestie and other Big Island Front Line Workers, I was able to get a lot of invaluable feedback and am working to improve a few things. I'm changing the fabric of the masks and working together with Spoonflower to create a mask that is slightly more breathable than our flag material. We are able to add our original fish designs to a linen cotton canvas and have it delivered to our door -something that is becoming the norm now with fabric stores here on O'ahu deemed "non-essential and being advised to close down.
Our original Fish Flags are used for the front of the masks
Our Face Masks are based off our original Fish Flag designs
I'm designing an additional mask for Front Line Workers that is based off of the "Kaiser Style", made of 100% Cotton Fabric and straps (instead of elastic) for our Front Line Workers. We have found that our Fish Flag Masks are great for the general public going out to buy essential items and we have been told that they are "fun to wear".
Each of our masks is modelled after an N95 fit and includes a bendable wire to fit around your nose ensuring a more secure fit. The mask also includes an inteiror pocket for filters which research has shown to be of utmost importance. Just slip in a household HEPA filter, coffee filter, or even a face tissue or tissue paper. Of course each item has a varying degree of protection/filtration so we remind our mask-users to please be aware of this. Obviously our masks are not "medical grade" and are not going to guarantee that you won't attract the virus, but we now know that wearing a mask is better than not wearing one.
The inside of our mask is complimented with a beautiful assortment of Hawaiian fabrics. Many of which I found in Tutu's old fabric box!
My 14 year old niece Lorielle Henline-Enriquez from the Big Island
Tutu's vintage Palaka fabric
I am trying my best to sew as often as I can. I've been putting in sometimes 18 hour days. I'm getting quicker (pretty sure I mentioned somewhere that up until now I didn't really sew) My mom (in Hilo on the Big Island) is helping gather supplies too and has become a valuable part of our mask-making success. We truly are a "family-run" business.
My newest employees (my niece Lorielle Henline-Enriquez and her friend Maya Maki) have upgraded their skills from cutting patterns, folding up pipe cleaners and tying elastic, to now helping sew the different mask layers and package orders. They are beginning to understand the basic fundamentals of running a business - my idea of "home school" for Intermediate School young adults.
I really think they have fun "working"
Teaching Maya Maki and Lori Henline-Enriquez to help sew
Making a Mask for my Bestie has led me to experience so many human connections that seem to mean so much more. I am continuously seeing how gracious people are during this time. The other day I received a bunch of white elastic from my "Hawaii Mask Maker" friends Honolulu Baby Company and Sophia's Closet in the mail - just one example of the daily pay-it-forward acts of kindness I have been blessed with.
I'm also learning that so many of my current customers, who already support my business, are health care workers on the front line. By now knowing this, and being able to help them, I feel a deeper connection with so many of my customers and its an amazing thing.
I feel like Elene and I and all our other "Hawaii Mask Makers" are involved in a powerful little underground movement, that we are going to look back on when we are older and be proud of. With so many other local brands moving their production to manufacturing masks, it has shown me what a wonderful role our local small businesses have in helping each other succeed (and survive). We are helping each other pay the rent, keep employees on the payroll, or empower the youth in and around our households - which for most have become our main office and work space. Many of the local Hawaiian mask makers are young mothers (I don't know how they are finding time to sew) and I'm sure I can speak on behalf of all of us, that we can't wait to all meet at the end of this pandemic and have a "Mask-Maker" Party!
X SUNDOT MARINE
If you would like to purchase or support some of the other local mask makers in Hawaii, I have included some of them below. If you are a Front Line Worker and are in need of donation masks, please let us know and we will do our best to try to help or find someone who can help.
If you would like to help support us by purchasing masks, donating fabric or funds, or if you would like some help learning to sew your own masks, please do not hesitate to contact us.
For a list of companies in Hawaii offering masks for sale visit the Star Advertiser website.
Hawaii Mask Makers Crew