Nova Scotia

13-year-old N.S. mask maker stitches colourful designs using African patterns

Damini Awoyiga from Halifax began making reusable masks for her family, using mostly fabric from Nigeria and Ghana, to help protect them from contracting COVID-19. She now has a growing business on her hands.

Damini Awoyiga hopes her designs give people confidence

Damini Awoyiga is the 13-year-old creative force behind Damini Creatives. (Submitted by Damini Awoyiga)

Damini Awoyiga's small business grew out of a desire to keep her parents safe from COVID-19.

The 13-year-old from Halifax got a sewing machine in the middle of the lockdown and began making reusable masks for her family, using mostly fabric she got from her grandmother.

The fabric, which comes from Nigeria and Ghana, features colourful patterns that have deep meaning.

The kente cloth from Ghana is a dazzling mix of yellows, blues and blacks.

"And each one of the colours symbolizes something. For example, blue symbolizes royalty," Awoyiga told CBC's Information Morning on Friday, the day Nova Scotia's new mandatory mask rule came into effect.

Many of Awoyiga's masks were made from African prints she got from her grandmother. (Submitted by Damini Awoyiga )

Awoyiga is doing her part to make sure Nova Scotians can mask up now that they're required to wear non-medical masks in most indoor public places.

She's made 200 masks, many featuring her African designs, and has received 60 orders so far through her burgeoning business, Damini Creatives.

"Wearing masks can be sweaty and hot, but it will keep the people around us, and us, safe from COVID-19," she said.

On Friday, Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, laid out new rules for when people should wear masks and encouraged Nova Scotians to support local mask makers.

"There are certainly many small businesses in Nova Scotia that are now making them, so it is an opportunity for people to follow the theme of buy local when they're looking for masks," he said.

The province said it's also distributing free masks people can pick up at places including local libraries and provincial museums.

Newcomers make 5,000 masks — and counting

A group of eight newcomer women are also helping with the mask-making effort.

They've been hired by MetroWorks, a community economic development group in Halifax, and have made 5,000 masks so far, usually averaging 10 masks an hour, according to Janet Niyonkuru.

Awoyiga said wearing her designs makes her feel confident. (Submitted by Damini Awoyiga )

She's the client navigator at MetroWorks and moved to Canada from Uganda 13 years ago.

The sewers are all working from home, and some don't speak English so Niyonkuru is helping to co-ordinate and is also acting as an interpreter. She said making thousands of masks this way is a challenge, but it's worth it.

It helps the community, and also gives the newcomers in the program valuable work experience.

Masks to prevent the transmission of COVID don't have to be bland. They can come with as much personality as the people wearing them. We talk to the young mask maker behind Damini Creatives. 7:28

"They are getting a connection with future employers for them, and also they are feeling happy because they can contribute to their community during the pandemic," Niyonkuru told CBC's Maritime Noon.

Awoyiga, who is going into Grade 8 at Madeline Symonds Middle School in Hammonds Plains, said she feels proud when she wears one of her designs.

"It gives me an opportunity to express my colours and just my personality," she said, noting her favourite colours are purple and pink, and she has masks in those colours.

Awoyiga has made about 200 masks and had 60 orders placed so far. (Submitted by Damini Awoyiga )

She hopes her masks make other students feel the same way now that they'll be required to wear masks in hallways and on school buses.

"It can help for people to be more confident while wearing their masks," Awoyiga said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.


With files from CBC's Information Morning and Maritime Noon