Beckley native and Los Angeles-based fashion designer Ripley Rader should be working on her Spring 2021 collection right now.
But instead of designing women’s clothing — Rader is best known for her jumpsuits, a favorite among celebrities — she is instead sewing masks as part of her Look Good Do Good campaign.
Rader explains it started two weeks ago as a challenge following a conversation with her sister, Jill, who was making masks for health care workers.
“I come from a service-driven family and felt I needed to do my part,” Rader explained. “And at the same time, I realized I could probably inspire other people who had sewing machines at home to dust them off and contribute.”
So Rader challenged herself to make 100 masks in two days and challenged members of her community — friends, family and those who follow the Ripley Rader brand on social media – to also make 10 masks.
The response, she said, was immediate.
“People who hadn’t sewed in forever started to sew just to feel like they were making a difference,” she said. “It was awesome.”
And people even bought sewing machines just to participate.
“I’ve taught a lot of people to sew,” she said, laughing. “Five people within our online community have bought sewing machines.”
That’s when Rader said she began receiving emails from nurses and other health care workers in need of masks.
“And what I realized after those two days is that there was absolutely no way I could keep up with the demand."
So she reached out to the sewing staff who would ordinarily be working on her clothing.
“Everything is shut down right now, so I asked, ‘Do you guys have sewing machines at home?’” she explained.
And things took off from there.
Fabric — the same kind used in Rader’s clothing line — is sent to the team via courier.
The workers create the masks and send them back the same way.
Rader’s masks are not just for health care workers though, as she said, although she’d like to donate everything she makes, she had to find a way to pay her team.
So through the Ripley Rader line, anyone who would like to purchase a mask — in both adult and child sizes – can do so for $22.
And with each purchase, two masks are donated to health care professionals.
Rader says 600 masks were sent out last week and the order has doubled for this week.
“To be honest, if I could make 5,000 masks and not charge for any, I would do it,” she said. “But coming up with this business model for people to purchase and donate two has created an awesome opportunity for us to do our part in this collective crisis.”
Staying true to her fashion background, in addition to the chambray masks, Rader also offers sequin masks.
“It was interesting. I did it because everyone was talking about how sad they were and what a hard time it was and I agree,” she said. “So I thought this might add a little sparkle and lightness and put somebody in a good mood.”
She said it might also entice children — particularly young girls — into wearing masks.
Rader wants to make sure no one thinks the sequin masks are an attempt to make less of the seriousness of the situation.
“I recognize the severity,” she said; “it’s just my attempt to add lightness in an anxious time.”
She adds she’s even had a pediatrician contact her for a sequin mask to wear over an N95 mask to help cheer up children.
That’s also something Rader points out: Her masks are not substitutes for N95 masks or surgical masks.
“My masks do not replace medical grade N95s,” she said. “They’re for hospice care workers, labor and delivery workers and other people in health care who might need protection.”
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Rader said she’s excited by the way this has taken off so quickly and calls it the “coolest thing that ever happened” in her business.
That says a lot, too, as she was discovered as a designer while wearing her own jumpsuit while standing in line for a concert.
“My mom and my grandparents talked about these 'God nods,'” she said. “There were these moments you could use these gifts you were given to make a larger impact.
"Everything just came together.”
To order a mask or to purchase masks for donation, visit www.ripleyrader.com.
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