MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — A Minneapolis-based business has teamed up with local manufacturers to get masks to those who need them on the front lines.
The "Be Silly Project" is also encouraging people to share photos of themselves wearing their masks on social media in an effort to normalize the practice.
"It's gotta feel weird when we can't see each other's faces or smiles when you pass someone in the street. It's not normal that we're wearing masks. So it's like, we're all going to do it and be safe. So let's just be silly together," said Laura Heurung, co-founder of the sustainable swimsuit brand Wild Isles Swim.
Heurung said the project started as a way to support the local sewing teams they work with after they stopped their summer swimwear orders.
"I wasn't even really worried about our company because we still both have full-time jobs and it's been a really fun entrepreneurial experience. But I was more worried about these sewing teams, that have been local forever, all of a sudden being out of work," Heurung said.
So Wild Isles Swim started raising money to make masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) for those on the front lines. They partnered with three local sewing networks, including Clothier Design Source.
The Twin Cities company typically works with small startup companies and established brands on their development and manufacturing.
"We helped launch their first couple orders for them to get masks donated to local hospitals. From there, it's really given us a platform to be able to convert our whole manufacturing facility. We have 99% of our capacity going to making PPE and masks. We're currently making masks for organizations such as the Minnesota Department of Health, VA hospitals, the Navy, USPS," Operations Manager Kellie Kronberg said.
When companies first started feeling the impact of COVID-19, Kronberg said they had considered layoffs.
"Within a couple of hours that changed. So we've actually had to hire more people. We've started a second shift in manufacturing and it's really allowed us to keep our staff on 100% of the time... and then again, additional people. We have a lot of sewers that we also have working as contract sewers and so we're really helping people that were laid off get some financial stability back in their lives as well," Kronberg said.
According to Heurung, the Be Silly Project has raised about $60,000 so far through individual sales of masks and donations. They use a buy one, give two model.
Money raised goes directly back to wages for sewing teams and materials.
Heurung estimates they've donated about 2,500 masks so far across 30 local organizations. They've also shipped some to hospitals in hot spots like Seattle and Boston. With the money they've raised so far, Heurung believes they'll be able to donate 7,000-8,000 masks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people to wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
The Be Silly Project has a social media campaign that encourages people to share their photos wearing masks.
"Show us your mask. Let's normalize it. Let's do this together," Heurung said.
Organizations can also request help through their website.
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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.