Three local fashion designers are putting their sewing skills to use making masks during the coronavirus outbreak.

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When Mary Ellen DiMauro closed the doors to her Watersound clothing boutique because of the coronavirus outbreak, she didn’t know her next move.

The answer came quickly.

“It didn’t feel authentic to be posting about buying clothes in a time like this,” DiMauro said. “I was like, ‘What can I do to help our community? What can I do for myself and our employees to keep things moving?’ That’s when I decided to make masks. I started doing that and within two days, we had 400 orders for masks.”

With the help of only one employee, DiMauro has made 600 double-lined, cotton masks since.

Assembling masks take longer to make than you might think, DiMauro said.

“We make them assembly-line style,” DiMauro said. “We can probably make 10 in an hour. They’re kind of detailed, because each one has four pleats and little elastic straps for the ears. And, each mask has a pocket – like a one- to two-inch hole you can put a filter in. Some people have been putting coffee filters or paper towels inside of them. They’re fun to make.”

DiMauro likes seeing the impact she has made when people wear her masks around town.

“We made them with a lot of bright colors and tie dye and cheerful patterns,” DiMauro said. “They put a smile on people’s faces; it’s really sweet.”

Masks are sold for a $20 suggested donation online at maryellendimauro.com or for porch pick-up. DiMauro donates a portion of the proceeds to Point Washington Medical Clinic.

“They’re actually set up in a parking lot and testing people for COVID,” DiMauro said. “They are a pretty cool company because they do radically inclusive healthcare. They’ll see anyone – even if they don’t have insurance – at a very affordable cost.”

Like DiMauro, Nicole Paloma supports its mission. The Santa Rosa Beach fashion designer has donated many of her handmade #protectYOUprotectME masks to Point Washington Medical Clinic.

When Paloma’s friends found out, they requested to buy some.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll put it on the Facebook and the Instagram and see,’” Paloma said. “It was insane. So far I’ve made almost 500 masks. It’s definitely a twist from making couture wedding gowns to face masks.”

Like her gowns, though, Paloma’s masks have style.

“I couldn’t help it,” Paloma said. “Looking at the regular pleating, it was like, ‘Why not make these contour the face even better?’ I did that and the funky stitching that’s become part of my brand. If you’re going to do it, why not make it fun?”

Paloma sells her masks for $26 to $36 on shopnicolepaloma.com, so she can sustain her business and employ a seamstress to help make masks.

“It’s definitely not a profitable income-producing endeavor, but it’s been able to keep food on my table and feel like I’m doing something about this madness,” Paloma said. “We’re not gonna move from wedding gowns to mask production for the future, but we’ve donated a bunch to food pantries. It feels good to give back in my little way.”

Paloma is concerned about her business. The future of everything is unknown, she said.

She’s working on a comical photo shoot with the masks to bring humor to a scary situation, she said.

“It’s scary,” Paloma said. “I read something on Instagram that said, ‘For some people this has been a pause, a much needed time to reset and be with family. To other people, this has been an absolute nightmare in their lives. They’ve lost loved ones. They’ve lost their income.”

Destin fashion designer Cayce Collins and her husband, Dan, were furloughed from their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak. Like Paloma, Collins’ friends asked her to make them masks.

“I’d never really done anything like that before,” Collins said. “I started making masks and quickly figured out materials were hard to come by, so I used what I had available, which is a lot of swimwear fabric leftover my former career as a swimwear designer. So I worked on the masks using swimwear fabric instead of elastic. It’s been kind of a whirlwind.”

Her masks have a sartorial touch, too.

“I think that’s one thing that’s appealing about mine,” Collins said. “I’ve been a fabric hoarder for 15 years, so it was time to use some of that.”

Collins has made more than 1,000 masks and shipped some as far as New York. She has donated some to food pantries, healthcare personnel and is working on a large batch for the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center.

The most she has made in one day is 100 masks – and that was working for more than 15 consecutive hours.

“It’s a lot of work, but I think part of the reason I was struggling at the beginning of this quarantine was that I felt like I didn’t have a purpose, not working and earning income,” Collins said. “I’m really proud I can do something that’s making a difference for people and helping people not only in my community, but all across the U.S.”

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