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Mask-Making Sustains North Texas Businesses And COVID-19 Efforts

Texas — like the rest of the country — has seen a historic jump in unemployment claims since coronavirus concerns and stay-at-home orders have shuttered all but essential businesses. But now some creative Texas companies have pivoted to mask-making after last week, when federal health officials began recommending all people cover their faces in public.

The chairs may have been empty at Pink Pedi, a stylish West Dallas nail salon, but owners Brandon Lyon and Lucy Dang were at a long craft table, packing face masks.

“We made Joe Exotic masks,” Dang said jokingly. “We have cheetah print and leopard print and tiger print.”

The couple opened PinkPedi in 2017, but had to close shop two weeks ago — leaving the salon’s 15 nail technicians without work. 

"You can't do a pedicure six feet away," Dang said. "I thought about curbside pedis, but my techs were like, 'No, Lucy. Just stop.'"

Lyon said having people he knows and cares about out of work and in a financial pickle was not something that sat right with him or Dang, so they started brainstorming how they could keep bringing in money to cover payroll. 

Credit Hady Mawajdeh
Lucy Dang and her husband and business partner Brandon Lyon work to package sanitized masks inside their nail salon.

“I remember Lucy looking at the disposable masks that our technicians wear and she said, ‘I can do this. This is not a hard pattern,’” he said. “And I think literally between two or three days, samples were already made and we were starting to photograph them to get them on our website to try and bring some income in for our staff that’s been displaced.” 

They sell the masks online for $12. Dang said it’s been profitable enough to help their employees keep the lights on. 

“There was a need. And in times of crisis you gotta step up,” she said. “So I’m like, ‘I’m gonna take the panic out of pandemic and turn it into something positive.’”

For every mask purchased, they donate one to hospitals and clinics — more than 1,200 masks so far. 

Credit Pink Pedi Salon
This pink cloth mask is one style in Pink Pedi's collection.

The Dallas nonprofit Vickery Trading Company has also taken up mask-making. Stephanie Giddens runs the organization, which employs about 10 refugees. 

“We equip refugee women for long term success through vocational training, personal development and fair wages,” Giddens said. 

Credit Vickery Trading Company
An image of the sorts of masks made by women employed by Vickery Trading Company.

VTC trains its employees to be professional seamstresses. And usually, their salaries and all of the resources the nonprofit provides— like English classes — are paid for by children's clothing the women sew and sell. But the coronavirus epidemic put that on hold. 

“So we looked at our bank account and we said, ‘Okay. We’ve got about a month-and-a-half or two months worth of rent and payroll in here, so we’re just gonna put them on paid-leave,’” she said. 

That wasn’t sustainable. For Giddens, having employees transition into making cloth masks from home was a no-brainer. 

To earn money, VTC created a sponsorship program where people can purchase a mask for eight dollars. Masks are then donated to medical professionals. As of this week, Giddens said they’ve given away nearly 2,000. 

Elizabeth Coronado, an OB/GYN‎ at Women's Specialists of Plano, said cloth masks work well as a second layer or for non-emergency situations. She said her office is running low on masks and a nationwide shortage means it’s hard to order more. 

“I am super excited to use my cloth mask that Vickery Trading Company provided, because they’re so much more comfortable for me,” Coronado said. 

Texas Medical Association president David Fleeger said cloth masks are great for the general public and can help keep the disease from spreading. 

“We’re finding that about 15% to 25% of patients who have COVID, are COVID positive, don’t have any symptoms,” Fleeger said. “So I think that from that standpoint, it’s a reasonable thing to make these masks and to have the public wear them.”

That mindset positions creative entrepreneurs like the founders of Pink Pedi and Vickery Trading Company to keep making money for their employees while contributing to the fight against COVID-19. 

It also means buying a face mask can actually support some North Texans at a time when so many are going without a paycheck.