Meet the Designers and Local Businesses Making Face Masks for Hawai‘i’s Brave Essential Workers

The New Face of Fashion: These Hawai‘i fashion designers are sewing the extra mile to help keep us safe.
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Allison Izu Song, Jana Lam and Kini Zamora were thinking what many of us were thinking when COVID-19 hit our home: How can we help? “I watched as New York fashion designers were being called upon to help make medical masks,” says Izu Song. “I had a lot of extra fabric and I needed to keep my employees employed, so helping to protect our front lines was a win-win for me.”


After Zamora launched a YouTube tutorial on how to make masks, direct messages flooded his Instagram account. “As requests came in from hospitals, nurses, first responders and other essential workers, I couldn’t ignore the need.” Zamora acted fast. He was one of the first to convert his signature fabric into masks for The Queen’s Medical Center and community clinics.


SEE ALSO: We Play Would You Rather with Hawai‘i Designer Jana Lam at Her Honolulu Studio and Showroom


Lam received similar inspiration when her Instagram post showing her team’s prototype mask garnered more than 100 comments in a single day; more than half were from people who work on the front line. However, when she and Izu Song started to focus their efforts, hospitals were voicing concerns over the quality of masks needed, not just quantity.


“We had our masks tested at a University of Hawai‘i medical lab to determine the level of protection and breathability,” says Lam. “This wasn’t a new cute Jana Lam piece; this was something we were hoping would help save lives.”


SEE ALSO: 20 Questions with Hawaiian Clothing Designer and Reality TV Star Kini Zamora

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Izu Song worked with the Queen’s staff to secure fabric that was approved by hospital administration. “We couldn’t make N95 versions, but we wanted to come as close as possible,” says Izu Song. “There were moments when I freaked out and started over with a design. In my head, the pressure of creating something that would protect those protecting all of us was scary, but it was reality and I needed to put my fears aside and focus on the bigger picture.”

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Their masks are meant to be worn over N95 versions to protect the outside so the N95s can be reused. All have two layers of fabric, a pocket filter for extra protection, finished seams to prevent chafing, and are reusable and machine washable. As of March 26, Zamora had already distributed hundreds of masks to hospitals, while Lam and Izu Song teamed up, using funds from online sales to create thousands of masks that will be donated to agencies that need them the most.–SM



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Other Initiatives: 

Local footwear label Island Slipper will manufacture face masks in its Pearl City slipper factory. Made from 100% cotton fabric and lined with 100% muslin, the pleated surgical-style masks feature elastic ear loops and can fit over N95 industrial and medical masks. “Although this unprecedented global crisis has forced us to maintain social distance from each other, in other ways it has really brought us together,” says Island Slipper vice president Matt Carpenter. “We now realize that we are all in this collectively and must rely on each other to help make it through these challenging times.” $8,


UH students have created Aloha Mask, a new initiative to provide mask kits. UH Mānoa PhD students Chris Ketter, a physics student, and Sergey Negrashov, a computer science student and Oceanit physicist, are using the college of engineering’s FabLab, a maker space used to fabricate designs, and its laser cutter, to create kits for  volunteers to make double-ply cloth masks—their goal is to make 400 masks per day. Negrashov and Ketter are working to tweak the design to include a filter pocket that will better serve healthcare workers, and will be teaming up with Oceanit to test the new design’s effectiveness. They are looking for volunteers to donate fabric, sew the masks and people to drop of materials and deliver completed masks to hospitals and nonprofits. For more information, visit–BT


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