Public Demand For Masks Spurs Production In Kansas City

Apr 8, 2020
Originally published on April 10, 2020 4:50 am

Some local businesses that recently began producing facemasks for hospitals and other large-volume customers are now beginning to sell masks to the general public.

In a reversal from its previous position, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week advised people to wear a cloth or fabric mask while in public.

The masks are not medical grade, and do not protect the user from the novel coronavirus. Rather, they may prevent transmission from people who are asymptomatic and do not realize they are carrying the virus.

Officials recommend washing the masks after purchase and after wearing them in public.

Is your local business or group selling masks to the general public? Reach out to KCUR and let us know by sending a note to chaxel@kcur.org.

Lucia's Sarto

Store owner Nataliya Meyer typically creates high-end wedding dresses and other expensive designs, but told KCUR she is now focused on masks — donating some and making others available for purchase.

Meyer charges $11 per mask and had some available Tuesday afternoon at her store west of the Country Club Plaza.

“We don’t make that much per piece,” she said. “I’m just trying to keep my team that I used to work with here every day employed.”

The color and pattern varies, based on “whatever fabric is available,” Meyer said. 

The masks are available for pickup but must first be ordered over the phone by calling 816-298-0003.

SewKC

One-size-fits all masks are available for $15 from SewKC. Styles include black, floral and leopard print, although the website cautions the print can be substituted "due to supply and demand." The organization says it will donate one mask to the local community for each purchase. Masks are available for pickup or delivery.

Made In KC

Made In KC co-founder Tyler Enders told KCUR his company is partnering with Sandlot Goods to produce about 7,000 cotton masks per week.

Most of those are reserved for organization orders of 20 or more masks at a time — places such as hospitals, doctors offices and school districts.

But about 10% of each week’s production is being set aside for individual purchases. Enders asks for $1.50 per mask on organization orders, which he says covers the cost of materials and some labor. 

He says masks for the general public are being sold for $7.50 to help make up additional labor costs. The masks are not available for pick-up, and shipping costs vary.

Enders, who says workers are still tackling a backlog of about 9,000 masks from organizational customers, expects to start shipping individual masks next week.

The company is also working to develop new masks with help from Filti, a Lenexa-based company that makes materials with better filtration properties than cotton. 

Enders expects those masks to be one-time use only, and reserved for organizational orders.

Rightfully Sewn

Rightfully Sewn, which trains seamstresses and has a business development program for fashion entrepreneuers,  so far has focused on producing masks for six area hospitals.

But founder Jennifer Lapka says she plans to begin selling masks to the public soon.

Lapka says she is taking special care to prevent any spread of the coronavirus by instituting wait times after transfer of materials and masks.

Researchers with the National Institute of Health believe the coronavirus can linger on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic for up to three days.

Lapka says the masks are sewn with organic cotton that is ethically sourced from a Missouri company.

Rightfully Sewn is still conducting trials to calculate the total costs, and Lapka says she remains committed to paying each seamstress a minimum of $15 per hour. 

"Some of our seamstress graduates have been laid off from their jobs at other manufacturers," Lapka told KCUR. "But now that we have this initiative, they can become employees: hopefully temporary employees, because those employers hated to let them go."

The group asks anyone interested in purchasing a mask to submit their name and contact information online.

Chris Haxel is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email him at chaxel@kcur.org, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisHaxel.

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