How 50,000 face masks kept a Mount Pearl business afloat
Wells has made up to 500 masks a day and has had to hire seamstresses
There have been big changes in our little corners of the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. CBC Newfoundland and Labrador is exploring those changes in a series called Our New Normal.
If someone told Lori Wells, last October when she opened her manufacturing textile company, that she would spend the better part of a year making more than 50,000 face masks, she wouldn't have believed it.
She had recently purchased a $100,000 press to create corporate uniforms, athletic jerseys, flags and more.
"It took off really fast. We were really busy," said Wells, owner of Karma's Kreations in Mount Pearl.
COVID made us stronger.- Kayla Wells
But about five months later, COVID-19 started circulating in Canada. People were no longer looking for jerseys and corporate wear, so operations abruptly came to a stop.
Wells said she had to try something to keep her business and her staff afloat.
"I said one day to one of my seamstresses … 'Let's make a few masks.' Just to keep us going, try to keep her employed, keep the funds rolling in," said Wells.
"That's when the madness started."
To get the project off the ground, Wells said, they had to come up with a mask design and material that would be breathable and washable.
They then came up with a system that would allow them to print the masks, then press, sew, cut, package and deliver them.
Wells said it started off a bit slow — they were producing about 30 masks a day — but that soon changed.
"From there it went to 100 masks a day, 200 masks a day, 500 masks a day. At one point we had seven seamstresses sewing 12 hours a day."
As a result of so many orders, Wells said, her daily routine has become drastically busier; she says she sometimes works 14-hour days or longer.
"It's the hardest job I have ever had in my whole life," she said.
But she is thankful they've had the opportunity to come up with a product that has done so well, and is thinking about other businesses that haven't been as fortunate.
"I have had friends who have lost their businesses. Heartbreaking. I have watched them be in business for years and years and years. For us we are very lucky but for many they are not as lucky."
'Designer face wear'
Wells said she has also seen a shift in the way people view masks. At the beginning of the pandemic, she said, people were bitterly buying them because of safety protocols but now she has clients who come into the store several times a week looking for new patterns to match their outfits and different holidays.
She has even made custom masks for weddings and other events.
"Now it's a fashion statement. It's no longer a mask. We don't even call them 'masks'; we call them 'designer face wear.'"
Their growing popularity has even caught up with them outside the store.
"It's funny for us now because we started off so small and now we go, 'Oh my God, that's our mask,' and people will say 'You're the mask ladies,' so for us it's great," said Wells.
Wells's daughter-in-law and business partner, Kayla, says they've been enjoying the experience.
"We are having a great time. We are having a blast," said Kayla Wells.
"COVID made us stronger."
Our New Normal
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant great changes in our daily lives. We'll be exploring them in Our New Normal, a series of segments you'll see here, on Here & Now and on our current affairs shows.