Sligo fashion designer turns talents to face masks in New York

As Covid-19 courses its way across the United States, killing thousands, overwhelming hospitals and upending daily life, authorities has pinned one of its strategies on combatting the spread of the virus on a simple device: the face mask.
Sligo fashion designer turns talents to face masks in New York

Sligo-born designer Áine Hanson, now based in New York and making facemasks to assist with the state's Covid-19 crisis.
Sligo-born designer Áine Hanson, now based in New York and making facemasks to assist with the state's Covid-19 crisis.

As Covid-19 courses its way across the United States, killing thousands, overwhelming hospitals and upending daily life, authorities has pinned one of its strategies on combatting the spread of the virus on a simple device: the face mask.

But as America, and many other countries have discovered, demand for masks - the majority of which are made in China - far outstrips supply.

As a result of the shortage, a global cottage industry has sprung up almost overnight, as people scramble to protect themselves and others by making their own masks.

In particular, the fashion industry has taken up the baton to help meet the demand.

Hanson in studio, New York.
Hanson in studio, New York.

Áine Hanson, a fashion designer from Sligo living in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in America, is one of many in her industry who has pivoted to making face masks as part of her daily routine.

“I was aware from the news that there was a shortage of medical masks. I was at a loose end one weekend and decided to make simple cotton masks for myself, my husband and neighbours,” said Áine.

Like millions across the city, Áine has been self-isolating for the best part of a month, so she slipped the face masks, which she made in her studio at home, in to ziplock bags with a little note and taped them to neighbours’ doors in her apartment block.

“Initially it was just a pet project to help out, but it has kind of escalated over the past week or so,” she said.

Áine mentioned to an aunt in Boston that as well as working on her line-up of handmade leather bags and wallets, she had made some face masks for her neighbours.

“My aunt told my that my cousin, who is an ER doctor in Michigan, has only one medical mask and he has to reuse it everyday as the hospital doesn’t have any supply.

“I decided to make a few for him and also some to hand out in his department if anyone else was in need.”

When Áine added a video of the process of making the masks to her social media accounts inquiries started coming in.

“They really liked the idea of a washable and reusable cloth mask. I am also making batches to donate to my local hospital."

As Áine explained, pivoting to producing face masks was not a huge task: she drafts patterns for new product designs most days, and working from home she all the equipment and materials in her atelier.

“I chose a simple silhouette and kept sewing to a minimum to speed up the process of making. The trick with sewing is all in the steam iron, if you press your seams right the rest will follow.”

The material she uses, a lightweight chambray cloth which she had in her cupboard, is ideal as its a breathable natural fabric made from cotton and can be machine washed.

Over the past month Hanson has watched her adopted city, where she has lived since 2017, transform as it battles the onslaught of Covid-19.

She's doing all she can to help.

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