Unmasking the faces behind student-run mask businesses

By Merisa Kraja, Features Writer

In an attempt to fight Covid-19, some Maine South students have taken safety matters into their own hands by starting their own mask companies. These students are motivated by a variety of factors, from improving mask fit, to donating profits to charity, to promoting a healthier community. 

Tannous models her most commonly bought mask, The Original. She holds her other designs, The Aerodynamic on her left hand and The Surgeon on her right. (Photo courtesy Leila Tannous)

Junior Leila Tannous, along with her younger brother, started a mask-selling website, mgsmasks.com, over the summer to redirect her free time towards fulfilling the need she saw for public safety.

“My brother and I were encouraged to help the community and have something to do during quarantine,” Tannous said. “We wanted to provide what we could in COVID-19 prevention… and also wanted to collaborate on a project for the experience.” 

In order to please all customers and maximize potential profits, Tannous has integrated numerous designs.

“The first mask is called the ‘OG’, a classic two-loop mask,” Tannous said. “Our second design is called the ‘aerodynamic mask’, which has one band that goes around the head and sits high on the nose for a more stylish appeal.”

Along with these two, Tannous created another mask, with a unique focus on safety standards for high-risk circumstances.

“Our third design is called the ‘surgeon mask,’” Tannous said. “There is a layer of chiffon fabric, which has certain properties that increase the prevention of COVID-19.” 

Seeing the potential to do more with her profits, Tannous allows her customers to choose a charity to receive a portion of the profits.

“A portion of our profit goes to one of three charities chosen at check-out: Greater Chicago Food Depository, Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund, and COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund- World Health Organization,” Tannous said. “We chose these charities because they range from city, to state, to world.” 

Tannous and her brother are confident in the impact that their business has made on those around them. 

“We feel we have made a difference,” Tannous said. “We want to continue to make a difference during this time by producing and selling more masks.” 

With increasing demands, Maramba’s masks have expanded to a variety of patterns. (Photo courtesy Gwen Maramba)

Senior Gwen Maramba started making masks for herself, as store-bought masks failed to meet her expectations in comfort.

“I started making my own masks because I was tired of wearing masks that didn’t fit me,” Maramba said. “I found a pattern and I used trial and error until the mask fit perfectly.”

Unexpectedly, an opportunity for a business arose when others started to express interest in her creations through social media.

“When I put pictures of the masks I made on Snapchat, people expressed interest in buying them,” Maramba said. “ I didn’t expect to sell my masks when I first started making them, so I am very happy about the success of my business.”  

When August rolled around, Maramba saw a shift in her sales. 

“I would say the peak of my sales were in August, when everybody was preparing to go back to school,” Maramba said. “They are starting to rise again now because of in-person learning.” 

The design and fit of Maramba’s masks has attracted many customers.

“All of my masks are contoured to the face and made of two layers of 100% cotton,” Maramba said. “They are also reversible, which makes them cute and versatile.” 

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of her customers, Maramba is able to reap the benefits of her dedication to her business.

“Making masks is a lot of work, but it is so rewarding,” Maramba said. “It’s great to see people wearing masks and being safe.” 

Bisiak uses her new sewing machine to craft some masks. Her design will be sold and shared to friends and family. (Photo courtesy Karolina Bisiak)

Senior Karolina Bisiak, another student hoping to benefit the greater community, put her costume-making experience to use to start her mask business.

“In August, I finally got a sewing machine,” Bisiak said. “I’ve been sewing forever as a costume crew head, and I was so excited and inspired when I finally got one.”

Bisiak has been able to lure customers with her low price point.

“My 100% cotton masks are $4, generally much cheaper than what I’ve seen in stores,” Bisiak says.

Her business is currently tailored to a smaller group, with sales mostly publicized to friends over social media platforms. 

“Right now I’m running off of my Snapchat and only post mask drops periodically,” Bisiak said. “Sales have mainly been to my friends and people close to me.”

With the stress of college applications beginning to come to an end, Bisiak is looking for ways to expand her visibility. 

“My business is very small right now and I have just barely made a profit,” Bisiak said. “I hope to grow it enough that I can donate at least a portion of my profits to COVID-19 relief funds or Black Lives Matter-aligned charities like Color of Change.” 

Bisiak recognizes the positive impact something as simple as a homemade mask can have during these unprecedented times. 

“I’d like to think that I’m making a difference,” Bisiak said. In a time where so much is out of our control, I think a cute, affordable mask that you design yourself can help brighten people’s lives and especially slow the spread of the Coronavirus.”

 

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