Local Business

Seamstresses on mask-making mission

  • Gina Flood of Sassy Fabrics, Alterations, Doll & Pet Boutique hard at work on masks (Photograph supplied)
  • Masks being made by Gina Flood’s Sassy Fabrics, Alterations, Doll & Pet Boutique (Photograph supplied)
  • A mask made by Rene Hill Originals (Photograph supplied)
  • A mask made by Rene Hill Originals (Photograph supplied)

With face masks becoming a requirement at most grocery stores, local seamstresses are rushing to end a shortage of them on the island.

Seamstress Gina Flood of Sassy Fabrics, Alterations, Doll & Pet Boutique, spent almost all of the Easter holiday sewing masks.

“While you were eating hot cross buns and fish cakes I spent 18 hours sitting in one place, sewing,” she said.

In the last week she has made over 400 protective masks, and has orders for 1,200 more.

“I am past overwhelmed,” she laughed. “Things are absolutely manic.”

Staff at Noah’s Ark, Endsmeet Animal Hospital and Barritts are just a few of her customers. She has even had Bermudians living overseas message her about masks.

“Unfortunately, I have no way to get it to them,” she said. “Between going to sleep and waking up I have between 150 and 200 Whatsapp messages on my phone about the masks.”

She actually closed her shop in the Bermudiana Arcade six weeks ago when the health crisis first hit.

“At that time everyone was going on the grocery-buying frenzy,” she said. “It didn’t make sense me being open.”

Instead, she brought all her fabric and alterations home to work on.

Only, it turned out she didn’t have much time to work on alterations. Since the lockdown went into effect she has been frantically making masks.

Ms Flood said the mask-making is timely because many grocery stores are now requiring them for entry.

At the moment, her turnover time is about three weeks.

“I’m doing the best I can,” she said.

Her face masks are 100 per cent cotton for breathability and triple layered with space in between to slide a filter.

She also has a wide range of fabrics to choose from, ranging from African prints and lady bugs to bumble bees, tie dye and Mickey Mouse.

“We have a little catalogue to choose from,” she said.

She is selling her masks for $15 each.

The money made from the project will go towards paying the rent for her shop and home.

“I am having fun,” she said. “I am just glad that I am able to do this. I wouldn’t want to be someone out there frantically trying to find a mask right now.”

On Monday she donated several masks to staff at Lindo’s in Devonshire.

“At the end of all of this Bermuda will come away with a new appreciation of our neighbour and what it takes for us to survive as a community,” she said. “I hope it makes us better people.”

Normally, at this time of year Rene Hill of Rene Hill Originals would be knee deep in prom dresses, men’s suits and wedding dresses. It is a busy time for the alterations business. But when Covid-19 struck all the events people had lined up were postponed or cancelled.

Ms Hill didn’t initially intend to switch to making face masks, but her grandson Nicholas needed one.

“He has asthma and has had pneumonia twice,” she said. “We thought if anyone will catch it, it will be him.”

Then they were approached by a doctor at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. The doctor asked her, if the hospital ran short of masks, would she be able to make some.

“I said why not,” she said.

He didn’t confirm that he needed them just yet, but Ms Hill started making the masks.

“We just put up our stuff on Facebook and we were inundated with calls and e-mails,” she said.

Over the weekend they were contacted by the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce.

“They wanted to know how many masks we could produce a day and asking us about other seamstresses,” she said.

Ms Hill said mass production of masks is now needed in Bermuda.

“We have the ability to do that because of connections with seamstresses overseas,” she said. “Earlier this year we did a job for the Bermuda Regiment through a British and Irish company. We had to do 600 pieces for them. We did it within a week and a half, and it only took so long because the things got caught in Customs. We have a network of seamstresses who do great work.”

Working from home has been a bit of a challenge for her. Her industrial sewing machine is still in her studio in Hamilton, so she is using a domestic machine at home.

“It’s like the difference between a Porsche and a Fiat,” she said. “The domestic machines do 500 stitches a minute where the industrial ones do 3,000 to 5,000 a minute.”

And her work surface is much smaller at home, compared to what’s in the studio. She would like to get permission from Government to be allowed to go back into her studio and work from there to increase productivity.

Another issue is how to deliver masks to people with the lockdown rules in place.

“We have people who are down in St David’s,” she said. “They have placed an order, but I don’t know how to get it to them, because we are supposed to stay near our homes.”

In the meantime she said it’s good to be doing something for the community and helping to keep people safe.

Ms Hill is selling her masks for $25 each.

To contact Rene Hill Originals e-mail info@renehilloriginals.com, or Whatsapp 535-0154 or see them on Facebook or Instagram. To contact Ms Flood, Whatsapp her at 333-2784, or contact her on Facebook under Sassy Fabrics, Alterations, Doll & Pet Boutique