The COVID-19 age will be remembered for many things, but it’s not clear if the fashion of the day is going to be one of them.
From working from home in sweatpants and PJs to donning surgical masks when going out for groceries, the coronavirus aesthetic is a decidedly utilitarian one. But one Lethbridge College alumna is looking to inject a little flair into pandemic wear and, in the process, trying to make ends meet at a time when many small independent businesses are scrambling for survival.
Caitlin Power (Fashion Design and Marketing 2008) is the founder and creative director of her eponymous clothing label, which she began immediately after graduating from the college. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the Toronto-based designer brought her fashion sensibility to the world of personal protective equipment with a stylish take on face masks. Wider Horizons asked Caitlin about her move into PPE and navigating tough times as an entrepreneur.
WH: Why did you decide to start making masks?
CP: I have an immune-compromised friend who asked if I would be making them. She was a big influence because I knew I could make something to keep her safe.
WH: What are some of the details that set your masks apart?
CP: One major factor of picking this fabric is that it was a two-ply fabric that had breathability like it was single ply. Other technical features include sunblock, moisture-wicking, quick-drying and no pilling, and it’s tested for harmful substances. I also knew bright colours and cool patterns would make people feel more confident with this new accessory. I wanted people not only to feel safe, but badass when wearing my masks.
WH: What did the process of switching from making clothing to making masks look like for you?
CP: When I started to develop the mask, I knew I could use up a lot of old cotton that I had on hand and make something that was similar to what was on the market. But I’m a designer and a product developer, so I wanted to push the design and really develop a great product. I had some bonded fabric (two layers of single-ply fabric that is pre-bonded together) left over from dresses I did a few years ago. It’s really expensive, beautiful Italian fabric, but I knew it would be so comfortable to wear on the face, and it already had technical features that would be perfect for the mask.
WH: Was it difficult to change up your production process?
CP: The production side of things was, and still is, a bit challenging. It was hard to secure production at first because most production facilities were closed at the beginning, weren’t working at full capacity or were working on millions of other masks. We’re still working with home sewers because factories are still not taking on any more clients. I think we’ve made between 1,500 to 2,000 masks so far [by mid-July].
WH: How important has shifting to masks been to your business?
CP: I’ve been selling my products online for years now, but the business and I have both grown a lot and I’ve learned so much during these last 14 weeks of making masks. Being able to pivot and launch a new product during quarantine without being able to properly fit the product on anyone was challenging, but it has also shown me that it can be done. I’ve learned that having one great product can go a long way for business.
WH: Do you think this pandemic will change anything about the way the fashion world works?
CP: I hope people realize that buying and importing clothing and accessories from overseas is not sustainable and that the desire to buy local continues after masks are phased out. I hope people realize that “Made in Canada” matters, and that we need to support our own economy and pay the correct price for garments.
WH: What’s next for you and CAITLIN POWER Designs?
CP: We added some of our basics back in at the end of July. We’ll have T-shirts and T-shirt dresses that are hand tie-dyed and can be bought as a matching set with the masks!
You can check out Caitlin’s masks and other products at caitlinpower.com.