by MIKE CHAIKEN
Gowns, blouses and swimsuits are being set aside as New England fashion designers are using their skills to create something that’s less glamorous but more practical.
Some fashion designers are taking on the task as volunteers, while a Naugatuck woman is helping some out-of-work creatives earn a paycheck while they address the need for medical-grade face masks as the nation tries to beat back the coronavirus pandemic.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America, a national advocacy group, has recognized the dire need for medical-grade face masks. It is using its influence to help connect fashion designers and local manufacturers in the effort to reduce the shortage of personal protective equipment for medical personnel addressing the needs of COVID-19 patients.
Designers Kasia Roginski of Berlin, Chinnyere McPherson of Hartford, and Nicole Wrozek of Westfield, Mass., all have set aside their fashion ambitions for the moment to sew as many face masks as possible for the general public.
Meanwhile Katrina Orsini of Naugatuck, the founder of Hartford Fashion Week, has been marshalling her resources and contacts to address the need for more medical grade protection.
Orsini, who lives in New York City, said, “I’ve seen many designers and Connecticut and New York City sewers on my Facebook and Instagram timeline who are interested in helping and have started making textile masks.”
Additionally, the Naugatuck resident said, “I was paying particular attention to the new contracts that were budding between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and fashion houses in New York City like (celebrity designer) Christian Siriano.” For that effort, Orsini said, the state is providing the necessary materials to designers so their staff can construct handmade medical-grade N95 masks.
Orsini also saw how some of her friends sewing masks had their work turned down by hospitals because the masks weren’t useful against the virus.
Given the circumstances, Orsini said, Hartford Fashion Week wanted to gather a team in Connecticut that could echo what designers are doing in New York City and provide something for the medical community.
“We put out this call to gather people who have the skills to make not only medical grade masks but face shields, gowns, whatever the hospitals may put out orders for,” Orsini said. HFW has been connecting contractors with the local fashion community to start putting together the masks that are needed.
Most notably, Orsini said, the efforts will be paid gigs.
“We plan on providing our local sewers and makers with the opportunity for income because we know many people need money at this time,” Orsini said.
Roginski, who is a dental hygienist as well as the founder of KARO Swimwear, said her efforts to make masks have not been geared toward the medical community. Instead, she said she is making the masks to help senior citizens keep safe.
“So many (senior citizens) are on their own with no one to help with groceries,” Roginski said. In a trip to the grocery store, Roginski said some seniors were wearing gloves and masks. But, she said, most were not.
“(I) decided to gather some cotton fabric and make as many (masks) as the fabric allows,” said Roginski, whose swimsuits have been featured in Miami Swim Week as well as Sports Illustrated.
“I tried to make them comfy and I felt the pleats and construction had to be similar to my work masks,” Roginski said. As a swimwear designer, Roginski said she couldn’t resist adding some fun prints and colors.
Roginski has been selling the masks for $5 — just enough to cover the cost of buying the fabric.
McPherson, whose brand is Faschinn, saw the effort to make masks as an opportunity to put her fashion skills to good use.
“If I have a skill set that I know can help people, I’m not just going to sit back and do nothing. This is a terrible situation the world is in, but I think it’s a great reason for us all to sit back, slow down, regroup, refocus and do the things that we love,” said McPherson, who also has been selling her masks (and giving many away).
Although the masks have helped her keep busy as a designer, McPherson said the effort really isn’t about keeping her design skills sharp.
“Personally I have to be in a clear mind state in order to design,” McPherson said. “That’s when I create my best work.”
However, McPherson said, “(Making the masks) has pushed me to challenge myself to create something new. The fact that it can help people in the meantime only makes me feel even better.”
Wrozek, who operates Nicole Wzorek Designs, has donated over 200 masks she made to hospitals, elderly care facilities, and her hometown fire department.
Normally a bridal gown designer, Wrozek said the effort to use her fashion skills to make masks has helped steady her own state of mind as day after day of depressing news about COVID-19 is relayed to her.
Wrozek also is bolstered because she knows she is helping the community and the reaction to her efforts has been positive.
That positive feedback also has helped her as a fashion designer, Wrozek said, because it has helped to keep the “creative juices flowing.”
Roginski’s efforts also may be setting the stage for the next generation of fashion designers. Her sons Nathaniel, 9, and Gabriel, 5, have seen her at work making the masks and have been helping with the “mini-production line.”
Now, said Roginski, her older son wants to learn how to sew.
With the fashion community stepping forward to help during the COVID-19 crisis, Orsini said, “Hopefully, we can all work through this together.”
Last Friday, the Centers of Disease Control recommended Americans begin to wear face masks “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
That recommendation has bolstered requests to designers Kasia Roginski of Berlin, Conn., Chinneyere McPherson of Faschinn of Hartford and Nicole Wrozek of Westfield, Mass., for their face masks.
Seeing a need to protect people, both designers stepped up, prior to the CDC recommendations, to use their skills for creating fashion to create face covers.
“I have had an overwhelming number of requests,” Wrozek said on Monday. “I am donating (the masks to hospitals and other institutions) and selling and I am limiting the selling on order to do both. Currently, because of the recommendation, I have orders already filling up for two weeks.”
Since the announcement, said McPherson, “I’ve been very busy.”
Faschinn is getting additional requests for children and baby masks, said McPherson.
“I will continue making them as long as they are needed, but I can only make them as fast as humanly possible,” Wrozek said .
“There’s only so much I can make,” Roginski said. “If the orders keep coming that I can’t keep up, I know other people making them so I can always send them that way.”
Kasia Roginski, email@example.com
Chinnyere McPherson, Faschinn.com
Hartford Fashion Week, HartfordFashionWeek@gmail.com