From clothing to masks: Latina seamstresses join the fight and make masks for CHI Health

By Karlha Velasquez Rivas

The pandemic has brought many issues. While some can’t work, others have found a way to earn a living during the crisis that rushed in like an avalanche… and are making masks.

Facemasks have become one of the ways to avoid the spread of the novel Covid-19 virus, which is why many companies have changed their focus to making masks.

After nine years of making clothes for girls that are sold online by way of her Little Miss Fashion company, Yolanda Díaz is now making facemasks that are distributed by CHI Health.

The initiative didn’t just materialize out of thin air, since Bergman Incentives (who is in charge of creating Point of Purchase – POP – material to promote companies) had a megaproject to offer 100,000 facemasks to CHI Health, one of its clients, which is why it got in touch with the Latino Center of the Midlands to find a microcompany with expertise in fabric cutting and sewing operations.

Silvia Velez, Operations Manager for the Latino Center of the Midlands (LC M), got in touch with Diaz to set up the deal. Since sales for Little Miss Fashion had come to a complete halt due to the measures set in place to reduce the spread of COVID-18, Diaz didn’t think twice and jumped at the opportunity of making 75,000 facemasks, sealing the deal with Bergman Incentives (BI) and LCM.

“One of the most important and encouraging things about the project is that a company and a private health entity searched for a way to collaborate directly with the community, and it’s thanks to this that many women were able to get back to work,” said Velez over email.

During the quarantine, Diaz, along with two other women, had made facemasks to donate them to the Fashion Institute Midwest, but this is certainly a bigger challenge. Because of this, four women started to work again at Yolanda’s workshop to set things into motion.

The gears

All of the canvas material is delivered by BI to the LCM, who then delivers it to Diaz’s company. Once the product has been completed, LCM picks it up and delivers it to BI. The deal established that Yolanda would provide the labour and the thread.

“I order the thread from Los Angeles. I had enough thread in stock, so using it for this project was not an issue,” said Diaz to El Perico over the phone.

On May 1st, the LCM delivered the first batch of materials for the two facemask models and patterns. There are two types of facemasks: ones with pleats, and the duck one – yes, that’s the name of the model!

What needs to be done now is cutting, folding, matching, and sewing the facemasks. Each facemask also has the CHI Health logo, which is carefully embroidered with the skill and expertise of professional seamstresses.

“The shape of each facemask is already set with its embroidery. What we do is cut around the pattern and make sure that the pleats match. We get the canvas to work on them, and sew along the right pattern,” she added.

A new job

We must remember that during April, over 16,000 unemployment claims were made in Nebraska, and many of the people who did not have a job tried to find work in other companies and search for new options. Yolanda’s company is one of them.

With four women hard at work on the sewing, deliveries were being made on time, but it wouldn’t be enough to reach the goal of 75,000 facemasks as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Several women that lost their jobs during the quarantine that worked at restaurants or cleaning hotels – or who could not make ends meet from the pay of their other jobs – joined the project after being invited by Diaz to bring their sewing expertise to the table.

Thanks to this, the project now has ten women working every day non-stop to deliver as many facemasks as possible, all while being paid for their hard work. Diaz has flexible work hours for them since they also have to take care of their homes and allows them to carry on working from home to speed things up here and there.

“I know many of them to have kids or are taking care of someone else. For them, it’s very easy to take some of the workload homes and continue to be productive. I’m happy with the result because they have taken on this project and helped to make all deliveries on time, despite some setbacks along the way,” said Díaz.

Not everyone earns the same pay because those that complete more facemasks earn more money. It all comes down to their equipment. “Some can make at least 300 facemasks a day, but others can make up to 500. This is because some of them have regular sewing machines, while others have industrial sewing machines,” said Diaz.

This healthy competition has led some to dream about owning an industrial sewing machine. “I support their dream. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Many of them are working hard to get there,” she said.

Searching online to learn more about the cost of this equipment, you can find a wide range of products, from inexpensive pocket sewing kits for $3 to larger modes at roughly $160. On the other hand, industrial sewing machines go for at least $700.

On their way to 12 mil

Facemasks are not available to the public since they’re destined for the healthcare sector and supermarkets, as explained by way of email by BI’s President Mike Battershell. “There are many distribution points for these facemasks, but they’re not up for sale,” he said.

At the time of going to press, Diaz mentioned that 12,000 facemasks had been completed and delivered and that the whole distribution and payments chain has worked out as stated in the contract. “We haven’t had a single delay and have come through,” said the entrepreneur and seamstress with great satisfaction.

Along with making facemasks, and working on her company’s growth, she also makes blankets and other products for many companies, on top of the dresses for girls that can be bought online. She hasn’t been asked to make medical gowns, but “if they asked us to, we’d be ready. What we want to do is continue to work,” she added.

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