There’s a load of chat going on right now around mask wearing. Basically, you should do it. People love masks. People hate masks. But how do you make masks… and money?
Time to get behind the mask, or something a little less cliche. We spoke to Elizabeth, who accidentally started a side hustle making face masks. As you do.
So, how does one accidentally set up a mask-making business?
Very accidentally. The first mask I made was for my partner. A lime-meets-yellow number. My dad was watching me fall in love with the couch and suggested I use my creative muscle in lockdown, and for good. Then once I made my partner one, my dad wanted in because there was a particular pattern he wanted. He planted the seed and waited.
A clever man. Then what?
I have a design background and I think people assumed it’d be super hard to make a mask, but it’s pretty routine if you have the means. I put steps up on my Instagram story about how to make a mask at home so people could have a go.
People reacted really well to it, but instead of making them they’d DM slide asking me whether I’d make them one. It went from there.
Word caught on through my small network/social media. Each time I send one out I’d post it and tag the receiver. They’d normally do the same when they received, so I was reaching new markets by word of mouth. I think it was something new and exciting in a really sh*tty time. Something to grab onto.
And socials were where businesses clocked you?
Yeah, now I’ve made 500+ and have been getting bulk orders from businesses. There was my local cafe first who caught wind because there was a relationship already there. I think they of course needed masks when reopening, and wanted to support me. Then really randomly a catering company feeding the Formula1 racing drivers slid into my DMs. A wild one.
Where do you get all the material from?
When I finished my degree in design I had so much fabric. Point of no return. We bought a storage unit for the garden and put it all in there. Now of course, it’s come in so handy.
I’m also always making things for myself like camo trousers, joggers and scarfs. I keep the leftover fabric from all of those endeavors too.
As the demand got higher I had to start sourcing fabric purposefully, but it really is shocking how much you have around available to DIY-up. With a bit of washing you’ve got old clothes, sheets, tablecloths etc.
DIY. What about the other bits you need though?
I couldn’t really go and buy elastic with my essentials shop, so I was going round supermarkets and preying on their tiny home-sewing sections. Bit of velcro, bit of iron-on hem tape. I was buying that elastic. A meter at a time. A little bit and a little bit.
Does it end up being profitable for you with all of the bits included?
It’s profitable. The thing I would say about starting a business is it's worth thinking about what your overheads are. In the long run i’d need to think about the price of my sewing machine. You have to take into consideration every little thing that’s coming into play. The fabric that i use, considering it's such a small item + elastic and thread, it’s low cost.
I also need to take into consideration my speed. It’s if I'm quick enough, some days I’m not. There was a time when I was all ‘If I look at another mask I'm gonna put my head through a window’. Then I was like get a grip you’re making money, you were cleaning toilets for less!
Every little helps. Has the reception on that end been good?
A lot of people are hating on people making money from a scenario like this, I understand to a degree cos people don't want people profiting off of something like that but at the same time I don’t have a job.
If I was on furlough receiving 3k a month or whatever and was like how can I take the piss? ‘Make masks and sell them for 50’, then I get it, but it’s not like that.
98% of people have seen it as a positive.
Any little evolutions in your products?
Some incredibly exciting leaps. I have bought cellophane bags to put masks in now. Before that it was Ikea sandwich bags.
I bought business cards for selling in the cafe. You've only got to sell a few masks to cover the cost of those things. People alway think they need fancy equipment, best labelling, best stickers etc. you don’t.
I never set out to start selling these masks. Even after the first 50 i was like well, everyone i know has one now, that’s it. Then friends started telling friends.
And what about style, why do you think people got yours?
I think people liked them for the fabrics. A lot of people are doing drippy, mumzy sh*t. I could’ve gone more extra and had like filter/cig pockets, reversible fabric etc. I could’ve gone in. But cos it was working selling that simple product, why would i change it. Maybe I’ll do filter/cigarette pockets if the questionable second wave comes through.
Because i left my job at xmas, nothing was appealing to mme jobwise. Quarterlife crisis. Do i wanna do this, that etc. then i decided on doing an MA so i hadn’t eart for 3 months before we went into lockdown. It’s humbling. Going from boozing and clothes, to barely enough money to pay for rent. Having all the jobs i’ve had has helped me meet people that even after 50 marks it kept going, people coming out of the cracks.