UT-Austin students design masks to help keep community safe, fashionable

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Photo Credit: Cynthia Treviño | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Aug. 11 issue of the The Daily Texan.

When UT research labs closed in March due to COVID-19, neuroscience PhD student Lauren Hewitt traded her microscope for a sewing machine.

Small businesses across the country have begun making masks as state mandates to wear them have increased. Hewitt first started making masks for friends and family and then later expanded the business. As of Aug. 11, she had donated $350 of the proceeds she has made from her Etsy shop to local nonprofits, such as the Austin Justice Coalition, Connections and Black Queer Lives Matter in ATX.

“I started making masks as a way to deal with pandemic anxiety,” Hewitt said. “It felt like I was doing something to help.”

Before making any masks, Hewitt said she reviewed multiple studies on face mask materials and filters. Hewitt takes precautions like adding filter pockets, multiple layers and a nose wires for individuals who wear glasses. She then made the masks using science-themed fabric, including dinosaur and galaxy designs.

Like Hewitt, business management information systems junior Evie Shaw and business and finance junior Amie Nyugen also decided to make masks. After Thousand Thread, a platform they created in 2018 for students to rent and borrow clothes, paused services due to COVID-19, they shifted their focus to creating and donating face masks. 

 

Shaw and Nyugen posted on the Thousand Thread’s Instagram account saying for every ten likes they got they’d sew and donate one mask. For the 350 likes they received, Shaw and Nyugen made and donated 35 masks to the Ascension Seton Medical Center in Austin.

They handmade the masks using some materials they already had on hand to continue promoting sustainability through Thousand Thread.

“Our whole thing is to make what you can with what you have already. We wanted to continue that mission,” Shaw said.

After studio art sophomore Naja McDonald received the campuswide email on June 29 mandating the use of face coverings in the Fall, she said she began designing masks as a way to provide safe yet fashionable options for students.

“I just wanted to design something that would look cute with everybody’s outfits and take their minds away from everything,” McDonald said.

McDonald partnered with her grandmother, who had been a seamstress her whole life, to create distinct Longhorn-themed designs for the UT community. Her grandmother sews the masks while McDonald designs and markets them on social media.

“I was just thinking, we go to UT and everybody loves to show their UT pride and wear UT shirts, things like that,” McDonald said. “So if I need to wear a mask everyday, then I want a UT mask.”

McDonald said her mask-making business is an opportunity to expand her design and marketing experience while also providing an extra source of income for her and her grandmother.

Although larger businesses help make masks more financially accessible, Hewitt said people should buy from small businesses instead to help support the community. Hewitt plans to keep making masks as long as there’s a need for them. She hopes to be back in the lab soon, sporting one of her own science-themed creations. 

“I think it’s really cool that people know me personally and can buy a mask for me because I put my time into it,” Hewitt said. “It’s very personally fulfilling knowing that I have that personal connection to people buying masks from me.”