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Denver creatives, home entrepreneurs take on a new role: mask producers

But the sudden spike in demand has led to material shortages and cost increases, makers say

Tiffany Shively Demos couldn’t sleep Sunday night. But instead of draining her smartphone battery from the diminishing comfort of her bed, she got up and worked until 4 a.m. Monday on a project that has lately consumed huge swaths of the art, fashion and crafting worlds.

“I wanted to create something other than the basic face-mask pattern,” said Shively Demos, a lawyer who also makes personalized Christmas stockings, lanyards and buttons under the name ModThirteen. “This whole thing is so hard and scary, and any little thing I can do to personalize it or bring joy to people, especially children, helps.”

Shively Demos is one of dozens of area creatives who have been lured in recent days to making masks for the coronavirus pandemic. It’s partly out of a desire to help, and partly because demand for her other products — she’s sold 17,000 lanyards, Christmas stockings and other items on the arts-and-crafts site Etsy since 2006 — has plummeted.

“I have an industrial embroidery machine, so I can put words or names on them, but we can also do fun things like butterflies, flowers and princesses,” said the 49-year-old Erie resident, who priced her masks at $14 apiece and is committed to making one to donate for every three she sells.

Known for its hip, entrepreneurial approach to beer, food, gifts and other crafty pursuits, the Front Range’s creative community has quickly united around the cause, using social media and DIY retail sites to organize, share ideas and distribute items to those most in need.

Many sellers, such as Kase Collective founder Wynne Kroger, are using their creativity to personalize the masks and therefore encourage people to view them as fashion items. The hope is that a professionally made mask will last longer and work better than the hastily made T-shirt versions (although even those are better than nothing, the CDC has said).

Like most of the people rushing to meet this challenge, Kroger is also donating her CDC-guided products to frontline hospital workers. (In February, Etsy struggled to prevent the sale of counterfeit antiviral facemasks, but has updated its prohibited items policy, according to a spokeswoman.)

“We really pride ourselves on our design,” said Kroger, 31, whose Aurora-based brands include the baby and toddler-focused Kritter Haus. “A lot of kids, especially kids with disabilities, don’t want to wear masks that are close to their faces. Having these lighthearted, whimsical, comfortable designs gives them more incentive.”

Kroger’s choice of patterns — many of which she designs and prints in-house — and colors help set her brushed, double-knit polyester masks (which retail for $14 apiece) above most homemade ones, while also supporting her business and the people she employs.

Following Gov. Jared Polis’ efforts to encourage Colorado’s 5.7 million residents to wear masks on Friday — he even donned an exemplary mask, something President Donald Trump has refused to do — companies and makers marveled at the extraordinary spike in consumer demand over the weekend.

Add to that a looming material shortage and the ongoing medical crisis, and it’s clear that this is far more than a casual, crowd-sourced craft project.

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