It began with making cloth masks out of cut-up old T-shirts and rubber bands in spring 2020. They were uncomfortable and were not properly fitting Lauryn Giuliano, a sophomore psychology major.
“Obviously there was a huge shortage of the regular, blue surgical masks in stores everywhere,” says Giuliano. “So I needed a solution.”
She found some people making masks, but when the spring semester ended, she decided to enter the mask-making business herself.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Giuliano traded in her pens and notebooks for fabric and thread, combined with a passion for sewing, to make and sell reusable masks.
The masks Giuliano started to make came out of necessity. Even prior to the mask mandate that went state and nationwide, her family began to wear masks outside of their home on trips to the store. Once the spring semester ended, Giuliano says she went right to work full time making them for friends and family.
“If I need masks for work too, and my family needs masks and my friends did, I just decided it would be a good idea, and a fun project to do,” Giuliano says.
A member of Southern’s Honors College, Giuliano’s project reinvigorated her love for sewing and pattern making in the early weeks of the pandemic, when the university was closed and classes and operations shifted online.
When she was younger, Giuliano said her interest in sewing began when she wanted to create clothing items out of an interest in fashion, and sought the help and influence of her family. She reached out to her grandma and aunt, who had a knack for sewing.
“When I got old enough, where my grandma thought it was safe enough for me to be handling a needle, she let me borrow her sewing supplies,” Giuliano says. “I would practice sewing with my friends, and do random things with whatever materials I had around.”
With the business of school and other interests, Giuliano lost interest in sewing, until the pandemic paused most of her life.
When Gov. Ned Lamont ordered local businesses to enforce mask mandates, there had already been a shortage of masks nationwide. Giuliano’s mother, Tina, got to work making those first uncomfortable, homemade masks.
Instead of buying a whole pack of disposable masks, many have taken to purchasing washable, custom-made cotton masks such as the ones Giuliano continues to make.
According to an October 2020 Livinguard survey of 1,000 Americans on mask-wearing habits, 46 percent of the surveyed preferred using reusable masks instead of disposable ones.
Not only are the masks cotton and reusable, but reversible as well. Giuliano recalls “spending hours” at JOANN Fabrics and Crafts, picking out the patterns and materials for the first batch of masks she was to make.
“I very deliberately chose every fabric, and I tried to coordinate with solid colors to make sure everyone had the variety they wanted,” Giuliano says.
Giuliano shifted her focus from purchasing fabrics from JOANN Fabrics and Crafts to Close to Home Sewing Center in Orange, a family-owned business.
“Even though I switched from buying fabrics from JOANN to the local place, obviously local places are a little more expensive, but the quality is a lot better,” says Giuliano. “They have a ton of the basic, cotton quilting fabric, which I mainly use.”
Giuliano’s fabrics range from sunflowers, bright pinks and yellows and newspaper prints. She also has experimented with synthetic materials such as silk and satin, which is said to work well with skin. Her pricing has been constant, each mask costing $7 each. She also bundled the masks for three for $18.
Giuliano makes her masks in stages, cutting fabric when she gets a set of orders. She would sew the masks in stages, then attach the elastic, which she calls the longest process.
“I have to change all the thread colors so it matches the outside,” says Giuliano.
One mask from start to finish takes around 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the material.
Like her initial need for masks in the spring, Giuliano worried less about making a profit, and more about providing an affordable and reusable necessity to students at a low price.
“I feel like with something like this, they are things that people need,” says Giuliano. “So I don’t want to charge people an insane amount of money for something that is helping keep them safe.”
In a time of uncertainty and social distancing, her masks bring a sense of fashion and style to a university facing a pandemic. Giuliano’s masks have a specific look and feel that differs from the store-bought brands.
“I looked up videos on YouTube about how to make masks. I didn’t like most of them, so I went off of one as a guide.”
That guide turned out to be a child’s size mask, so Giuliano sized up the design, which is the “basic style with a slight curve.” Since then, that initial mask design has been the same.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Giuliano has sold over 150 masks to friends, family and students. At one time, Giuliano said she received over 20 orders, with people requesting multiple masks with different materials and sizes.
“I got such an influx of orders at once,” says Giuliano. “It was kind of stressful because I was working at the time, so I didn’t have a ton of time and I tried to get them out as quickly as I could.”
And yet, it seems the hard work has paid off.
“So far, the feedback has been good, which I was happy about because I was worried at first [the masks] wouldn’t fit people properly, even though you use elastic, which wears down over time and everyone’s face is different,” says Giuliano.
With cases lowering overall and people acquiring multiple masks, her orders have slowed down, which Giuliano considers good because of responsibilities including classes, student clubs and work picking up again.
Beside mask-making, Giuliano has also taken up designing and creating swimwear. She has begun using an Instagram account: @giuli.swimwear, to sell her custom made outfits. This new side business allowed Giuliano to try new sewing techniques and use different material, and express her interest in fashion.
“Once mask orders calmed down, I figured why not try something else,” says Giuliano. “I do like making masks, but it gets pretty repetitive.”
In spite of the pandemic, Giuliano was able to use her free time to reinspire her passion for sewing and crafts, all for a positive cause, and to prevent positive cases of coronavirus.
“It was a good opportunity to get back into [sewing], and I’ve learned a lot more,” says Giuliano.
By Jason Edwards