Adapting to the New Norm – Making Masks Out of Recycled Bed Sheets

Back in November when Sheetshirts participated in the 27th Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT) runaway show, 32-Year-Old Taz was excited to elevate the ambitions of his clothing brand for the new year ahead. Growing his brand was the goal of 2020 until the pandemic of COVID19 took over the lives and the economy of the world. 

Taz started his clothing brand back in 2012. He was studying design and sewing classes at FIT, the same institute in which his designs would be presented years later. One of the biggest obstacles Taz faced during his academic years were related to money, having just moved from his home state of Michigan and renting a place in Brooklyn, leaving him often unable to buy fabrics and materials required for his class projects. 

Taz saw an opportunity to improvise, making shirts out of fabrics he already had, old bedsheets. “As a kid, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I remembered my cousins who were lucky enough to sleep on the bedsheets. My aunt … had been saving them for 17 years,” said Taz, remembering how he got the first materials to make his first shirts.

Trimmed fabric prepared for creating mask. Photo Courtesy of Taz.

After making one shirt for his brother and one for himself, Taz was impressed by the immediate positive reaction of the people around him. People loved the fun, colorful graphics, nostalgic for their childhood days. During a Miami festival that the two attended, “attendees took pictures as if we were celebrities posing with people who shared the same memories as a child,” he says. 

The positive reaction confirmed that his idea had a niche— it was after this festival that Taz founded Sheetshirts, a clothing company specializing in making Shirts and Bow-Ties out of recycled bedsheets. People ship their beloved childhood bedsheets to Brooklyn, where a team of tailors dry clean, trim, sew, and make new wearable items out of it. 

Back in March, after Gov. Cuomo’s lockdown guidelines closed non-essential businesses, Taz’s company saw a decrease in requests like other small businesses in the area. However, that all changed after scientific reports signaled that masks could lower the spread of COVID19.

Wanting to help his close relatives and the community around him, Taz worked on templates that could help maximize the production of masks out of recycled fabric. “It is clear they are much more important than some people gave them credit for. We will do whatever we can to help,” he said, noting that his team changed from making bow ties and shirts to exclusively making face masks. The results were practical masks with a personalized look. 

Taz wearing one of the first masks made by combining and sewing different recycled fabrics.

 

The first masks took 30 minutes to complete, but the time to make one has since decreased to 5-10 minutes. At the moment Taz offers three different kinds of masks— a three-layered mask that allows the option of adding a N95 mask to it (usually recommended for nurses and front line workers), a two-layered mask, and a one layered mask which is the fastest to make. 

“We are making face masks for our families first and are encouraging people to make their own if they can. There are a lot of good how-to videos already available but I am working on some of our own,” he added, knowing that the demand for masks has increased ever since Gov. Cuomo announced an executive order, effective April 17, that required people to be wearing a mask in public places. 

Early Tests for making masks that could be durable and easy to wear, wash and reuse. The preparation of the fabrics take longer than creating the actual mask. Photo courtesy of Taz.

By prioritizing the production of masks Taz is not only hoping to help those around him but is also making sure that his employees can continue working and making a living. “Thankfully our sewers already work from home and this has only increased production for us in the past few weeks,” he said. 

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Rommel H Ojeda

Rommel H is Graduate Student a the Craig Newmark School for Journalism, CUNY. He writes about immigration, culture and the arts.

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