Katie May likes to stay busy. As a clothing designer and owner of a fashion line, as well as mom to two young daughters, May is not one to sit around waiting for the world to come to her.
As the coronavirus crisis began to unfold in late March, May heard reports about a shortage of protective equipment for health care workers. Two weeks ago, she sprang into action and launched the Mask Project, producing a line of masks for sale on her website, shopkatiemay.com, and the opportunity to donate to those in the health care industry.
“Health care workers were asking for homemade masks because they wanted to preserve the N95 masks for nurses and doctors who were seeing patients directly,” May says. “What started as me trying to fill up this extra time—and maybe donate 30 masks a week to meet my creative and busybody needs—turned into a large production when people started asking if they could buy for themselves as well.”
The project has already sold 600 masks, and has donated another 600, with plans to produce more masks for donations with revenue from sales to the general public. The project is also employing six seamstresses full-time during a period when employment is tough to find.
“I thought if I could pay a few more seamstresses— now six—to help produce, that would also mean I could donate more masks while keeping money in their pockets,” says May. “Our housekeeper is one of my favorite people and she has always been a big help with my clothing line. She is a really good sewer so she is one of the six working for me, and this gives her an income while she’s not cleaning houses right now.”
With nearly 20,000 followers on her two Instagram accounts (@simply_may_ and @shopkatiemay), May is using her social media profile to generate sales of the masks and increase her ability to make donations.
“My life is very transparent through Instagram. I pretty much show everything,” she says. “A lot of people were watching and wanted or needed a mask.”
With masks becoming a more popular accessory, it’s inevitable that fashion would start to play a role. May says her “cotton candy” line of masks are popular in California while boys are, not surprisingly, big on the digital “cammo” mask. Floral patterns are also popular given the season.
For essential workers looking for a mask for donation or masks for others, May says the best way to reach her is through Instagram or via email at [email protected]
“I’ve donated to nurses, doctors, grocery stores, Costco, you name it. This week I will be donating 200 to a friend who’s an oncologist and who has patients that are immune compromised,” May says. “I’m willing to donate to anyone who’s an essential worker or can’t afford a mask.”
May says her ultimate goal is to donate between 5,000 and 10,000 masks, which might not seem like a big number but the masks are washable and reusable and will last if taken well care of.
And May says she’s not stopping there.
“Ultimately I would like to reach out to communities that are getting hit really hard and donate both kids’ and adult masks to add another layer of protection for them,” she says.