Fashion Designers Join the Fight Against COVID-19 By Pivoting to Mask Production

On Friday, March 20, celeb designer Christian Siriano tweeted to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — and the world — that he was tasking his team of 10 seamstresses with making face masks. “If we need masks, my team can make them!” he declared to his some 1.4 million followers. “I have sewers and pattern makers ready to help working from home…” In the days that followed, fashion designers from L.A. to Milan began following suit, picking up their shears in solidarity to do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to at-risk patients and primary care providers.

Christina Karin, local Chicago designer helping to make face masks during the COVID-19 crisis.
Photo courtesy of Christina Karin.

“PPE [personal protective equipment] supplies are dwindling at a dramatic rate,” says Chicago womenswear designer Christina Karin Monley, who launched the hashtag #maskchallenge via her brand’s Instagram account. “It only makes sense that our industry, who has an abundance of materials and the skill set to get it done — fabrics, sewing machines and seamstresses — rally together and turn out as many masks as we can. With help from the Chicago community, we hope to make 10,000 masks to donate to local hospitals, police and first responders during the upcoming weeks.” Monley has since posted an easy-to-follow, mask-making tutorial on the Christina Karin website to aid community efforts.

Los Angeles Apparel had begun making surgical masks and gowns, too, utilizing its 150,000-square-foot factory in an attempt to turn out 300,000 masks and 50,000 gowns in one week alone. Luxury fashion houses including Prada, Gucci, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent and Brandon Maxwell also jumped on board, alongside Spanish-owned brand Zara and American outfitter L.L.Bean, all pledging to produce surgical masks. But no good deed goes unpunished. Because cloth masks aren’t medical grade, like those made by hospital supplier 3M, these “designer” masks aren’t compliant with FDA standards — a revelation that is now causing some designers to pump the breaks pending regulatory approval.

In the meantime, Monley’s M.O. is just keep stitching. “Cloth masks are washable and reusable — and proven to provide a protective barrier over surgical grade masks, extending their usage,” says Monley. “Plus, I have read numerous articles showing very little difference between surgical grade and double-ply cotton. At Christina Karin, we are primarily making mask covers which allow a mask to be reused and the cover to be sanitized. If it were me on the front lines, I would take a mask cover over none at all. Anything to help the fight is a win in my book.”

A Stich in Time Saves…

Homemade masks for healthcare workers facing shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic are hands down better than no masks at all — and we’re here for it. Itchin’ to get your stitch on? National retailer JOANN Fabrics and Craft Stores has released a video tutorial on how to make face masks, and you can order boundless bolts of cotton, in patterns that run the gamut from pindot to pinstripe, via the retailer’s website. Better still, JOANN, who has more than 800 locations across the U.S., is encouraging people to drop off their DIY masks at their stores, where they will then be donated to local hospitals.


Are you making your own masks at home? We’d love to see pictures so tag us on social media!

More from Better:

7 Fashion and Beauty Brands Giving Back During the Coronavirus

7 Items That Will Keep You Polished But Cozy During Quarantine

14 Life Lessons From Fashion Icon and Philanthropist Diane von Furstenberg


Elise Hofer Shaw cut her teeth working her way up the ranks at Modern Luxury magazines, including positions as senior editor of CS magazine, founding editor and editor-in-chief of The Men’s Book, and editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Weddings. From 2014 to 2019, she curated content for Sophisticated Living Chicago magazine as editor-in-chief, as well as managing the content for slmagchicago.com. Today, Hofer Shaw runs her own content creation biz, WordSmyth Chicago, and contributes frequently to publications that, er, make life better.