“It’s the fashion statement of 2020,” says Alana MacPhee, describing the non-medical masks she sells weekly at St. Albert Farmers’ Market.
She is a one-woman sewing army, filling bins with masks fashioned from about 100 or more different patterned fabrics. And it’s becoming hard to keep up with demand.
MacPhee sold global influenced jewelry at the city market for close to 18 years under the moniker Poppy Jewelry/Handmade on Venus.
“When COVID hit in March, all my spring shows were cancelled – five of them,” said MacPhee. Within a few weeks, her entire seasonal income evaporated.
Although a creative artisan, MacPhee never had the desire to sew masks.
“My mum is a sewing celebrity and she taught me to sew. I’ve been creative my whole life, but sewing was her thing,” said MacPhee.
Her mother, Linda MacPhee, founded MacPhee Workshop, the largest pattern-making company in Canada. The Sturgeon Country resident designed more than 300 patterns, taught sewing classes, hosted television programs and appeared as a special guest on numerous shows.
Once the pandemic hit, MacPhee Workshop was flooded with requests for masks largely from the United States.
“Orders started coming in for kits. We kept getting more and more requests. Mum started sewing masks and I pitched in to help.”
On opening day of St. Albert Farmers’ Market in June, MacPhee filled her booth with half jewelry, half masks.
“I sold zero jewelry and 100 masks. We didn’t think we’d sell any. That was my confirmation the mask thing was real.”
At the July 25 market, her credit card processor stated she’d sold 300 masks. This figure did not account for cash transactions.
Shopper Catherine Wojcichowski dropped by the booth to buy a mask for her elementary school son after purchasing one last week for her two-year-old daughter Rebecca.
“I don’t want to get the kids in a position where I can’t go in a store,” said Wojcichowski, adding that the mask’s easy pull-on, pull-off feature was a strong selling point.
Lindsay Archibald has just started emerging in public with her children after a long lockdown.
“I want to protect them and everyone else. And I like the style for kids. It comes up on the nose and the straps go around the head instead of looping around the ears.”
The 100 per cent cotton masks for both children and adults are double-layered. It is constructed with only one seam making the mask fit comfortably on the bridge of the nose.
The prints are as widely diverse as the imagination. Any visitor that flips through the bins will discover a profusion of prints: florals, animals, tropicals, geometric, dance, sports, recreation, cartoon and special occasion. There’s even a cannabis print.
One of the most popular requests is for Oiler print masks.
“Oiler fabric is impossible to get. Everything that is not essential wouldn’t be coming across the border and it’s all NHL branded.”
John Walsh, MacPhee’s life partner, is also a sales assistant at the market. He explained that MacPhee Workshop had a stockpile of fabric, elastic and thread.
“If we didn’t have these items, we wouldn’t have been able to start,” said Walsh. “We were in the right place at the right time with the right materials.”
MacPhee works long hours and acknowledges earning good money. However, health rather than profit is her biggest motivator.
“I like to think I’m helping. We’re trying to keep it reasonably priced. I think it’s important we wear masks so we can move on and live our lives.”
To those who complain about wearing a face covering MacPhee says, “Wear a mask. I don’t care where you get it. Just wear a mask. COVID is not going away. The sooner we do our part, the sooner it will go away.”