This article is part of our series on small companies with a big mission in five areas: women, kids, community, planet, and hope. Click here for more articles in the series.
Who could have predicted that 2020 would be the year when masks became a fashion statement, a social statement, and (sadly) a political statement?
While all of us are “yearning to breathe free” again, the reality is that stricter laws look to be the trend. As of this writing, 27 states have some level of statewide requirements, and with more and more studies showing the efficacy of masks, that number is bound to increase.
Naturally, this means there is money to be made, and fashion brands have been quick to pivot. Elle, Vogue, and GQ have all done roundup stories on the most fashionable masks, featuring indulgences like a $95 silk mask made from vintage Hermes scarves or this one-of-a-kind, $100 number designed to make you look like a deranged fashion clown.
But if ever there were a time for impact rather than indulgence, this would be it. While many fashion brands are donating a portion of their mask sales to charity, why not search out masks offered by a social enterprise, where mission is at the core rather than the periphery?
Here are a few suggestions, organized by the five “mission buckets” that we use for our storytelling at Cause Consumer.
Love & Freedom Project was one of the very first stories we did – a nonprofit social enterprise that offers fashion-industry training and employment to abused and exploited women in Dallas. The project was founded by designer Abi Ferrin, so you know their masks will be stylish and unique, including hard-to-find cowl masks in stretchy fabrics like Tropical Midnight and Azalea Dream.
There are five distinct styles with dozens of fabric choices, and we especially like the buy one/donate one option at just $15.
Looking to help women all around the world? You might know the Love Is Project for their famous “love” bracelets crafted by global artisans from Kenya to Vietnam, but some of those same women are now using their skills to make masks.
The standouts here are summery, tropical prints – not surprising, perhaps, since they’re sourced from Indonesia, where more than 600 women have found employment, education, and healthcare through Love Is. (Be on the lookout for our feature story in coming weeks.)
Children & Youth
Looking for an especially stylish way to keep your germs to yourself? The hand-dyed scarves at RefuSHE are individually named for the young woman who created the design. RefuSHE provides housing, education, healthcare, and more for the most vulnerable of all African refugees – orphaned and unaccompanied girls.
As girls progress through RefuSHE’s holistic care model, they have a chance to participate in an Artisan Collective, where they learn the creative and entrepreneurial skills needed for economic independence. All proceeds from scarf sales go back into RefuSHE programming – and you end up with a face covering that you won’t want to toss when the pandemic is past.
Traditional artisan communities are disappearing around the world as younger people flock to cities in search of a more lucrative profession. Mozaique is a social business that seeks to reverse this trend. They work with local artisans in Romania and Guatemala to adapt designs for U.S. tastes and offer tools to create more predictable income and improved livelihood. (Read our feature story here.)
When the pandemic hit, Mozaique did a classic pivot, taking the handwoven Guatemalan fabrics used in their signature kitchen towels and creating beautiful, handsewn facemasks in a dozen variations.
Vi Bella is another social enterprise dedicated to empowering artisan communities in high-poverty areas. Their artisans in Mexico and Haiti are best known for creating exquisite jewelry, but with the Covid pandemic hurting both supply and demand, the company has branched out into distinctive masks, mostly in happy prints like lemons, pineapples, and flamingos.
Some of these masks are sewn by founder Julie Hulstein herself, who notes that “Trying to provide jobs in impoverished communities is daunting on the best of days. And now? Almost unfathomable.” As with all of the social enterprises listed here, buying a mask is a way to keep an important mission going during difficult times.
Magpies & Peacocks bills itself as the country’s only nonprofit design house dedicated to sustainable fashion. The goal is to divert post-consumer textiles from the landfill – about a quarter-million pounds so far — then collaborate with designers to up-cycle them into salable products.
With a huge stock of fabric waiting for a new life, it was an easy choice for M&P to start making masks in response to the pandemic. Many of those masks are being donated to frontline workers at no charge, so creating a sales channel is an important revenue strategy for powering the environmental mission.
These are a high-fashion mask option, designed and hand-made in the USA with zero waste. You’ll find about 3 dozen fabric choices in the online store, ranging from simple, tailored solids to animal prints to a pair of whimsical cartoon angels.
Finding a job can be all but impossible after experiencing homelessness, addiction, or incarceration. That’s why Mile High Workshop hires marginalized jobseekers in Denver to provide assembly, manufacturing, and sewing expertise when businesses can’t keep up with demand.
No one, it seems, can keep up with the demand for masks right now, so it’s no surprise that the Workshop’s sewing experts are furiously churning out masks for the City of Denver as well as private users. They’re donating about half the masks they produce, so individual purchases of their unique, reversible mask design are a big help in keeping the lights on.
Another population with little hope for employment: adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Heaven Dropt is a social enterprise that hires these workers to create a whole range of products using one unusual material – recycled military parachutes. (They have about 70,000 pounds of the stuff sitting in a warehouse!)
With their distinct military styling and large logo, these masks won’t appeal to everyone – but they’re a good reminder that you never know what you’ll find when you set out intentionally to #spendforgood.
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