So Far, Sew Good: Mesa’s Fashion Department Makes a Difference One Mask at a Time

by Lauren Dorst

The Mesa College Fashion Department’s students, alumni, and faculty have teamed up to address the issue of mask shortages in the healthcare industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are mobilizing sewists and manning their machines, with some putting their own businesses and operations on pause to support the needs of hospital workers and their patients. Together, they have managed to sew and distribute hundreds of masks throughout the community.

Meet Carmen Flores of Ebb & Flow Beachwear. Carmen had the inspiration to begin her beachwear line while she was still taking classes in Fashion Design at Mesa. Today, she runs a successful online business selling her own reversible, customizable swimsuits.

In early April, Carmen teamed up with engineers AP Nist and Kevin Gemmell to embark on the “5,000 Mask Challenge,” a homegrown initiative to create and donate 5,000 masks to healthcare workers on the frontline of the pandemic. On April 3, the team got together to sew their first mask prototypes and set production into motion.

When Mesa College Fashion Professors, Meegan Feori and Jordyn Smiley heard of their former student’s involvement with the 5,000 Mask Challenge, they shared the initiative with current students in Mesa’s Fashion Department. Student volunteers jumped at the opportunity to lend their sewing skills to the cause, and with their help, the 5,000 Mask Challenge team was able to deliver their first large donation of 400 masks on May 12, helping the VA San Diego and the Health Center Partners of Southern California.

Support for the initiative has come from far and wide in our community and those with talent and experience in fashion such as retired Clothing and Design teacher Pamela Sherwood, take pride in their ability to use their sewing skills to help others. As Mesa College Fashion Department members continue to complete mask kits, the 5,000 Mask Challenge team projects the likelihood of reaching 1,500 total donations by the end of next week.

Another Mesa College alum, Emily Pritts is doing her part by partnering with Project Masks, a Southern California-based organization donating cloth masks to hospital workers. Emily brings her years of fashion expertise to the mask-making initiative, after attending classes in the Fashion Design program at Mesa, and growing her own fabric business, “Boho Fabrics,” which aims to connect home sewers to the beautiful textiles and trends of the fashion industry. Marrying her company’s vision with the efforts led by Project Masks, Emily is providing a free mask kit with each one she sells, as well as the opportunity for less-skilled donors to sponsor a local sewist in the community so they too can contribute to the effort.

While healthcare workers are among those who are most in need of personal protective equipment, we can all do our part to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus by wearing face masks. Mesa College Fashion faculty member Kit Kuriakose has helped meet this community need by creating a selection of affordable face masks that she sells in her San Diego-based store, Fiveloaves Twofish. While her apparel typically caters to children and young teens, Kit is making masks for all ages that are not only effective in promoting safety, but fashionable as well.

The talent and entrepreneurial spirit embodied by the members of Mesa’s Fashion Department has always been central to their success. As they collaborate to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we see they are not only accomplished designers, educators, and business professionals, but humanitarians, working to give back to the community. For the current and former students of Mesa’s Fashion Design and Merchandising programs, this experience making masks for healthcare workers has not only tested their sewing skills but provided a window into the real-world application and impact of their education and talents. Many thanks to the Mesa College Fashion Department for working hard to make our community a safer place.

To learn more and enroll in classes, visit Mesa’s Fashion Design Program.

Learn more about Mesa’s amazing Faculty, staff and programs in the Mesa College Newsroom