When Michael Drummond of the Saint Louis Fashion Fund saw the call for medical masks in Seattle, he knew the metro area would likely follow close behind, and so he answered the call to create.
“I knew St. Louis was about a week or two behind the curve in terms of what they were experiencing, so I thought maybe we should get on the horn,” Drummond says. “I had put up a post [on Facebook] asking if anyone knew if this was a legitimate thing – do medical workers actually want these? – because you hear so much misinformation these days.”
Drummond says comments kept confirming the need, which led him to create a Facebook group dubbed STL Makers Unite for Medical Masks.
“It had 300 followers in two days,” he says. “So there was a definite outpouring from the city.”
Once Drummond determined the demand was there, he began working on a design with Dr. Kumiko Shimoda, an anesthesiologist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield.
“We found from the research I did that a polyester/cotton blend seemed to be best in terms of breathability and if you’re going to reuse them,” Drummond says. “The fit was important, obviously, because you don’t want to have too much air circulation between the perimeter and the outside world. … Comfort was important because, worst-case scenario, doctors are wearing them, and they’d be wearing them for very long periods of time.”
Approximately 12 iterations later, and Drummond had mastered the mask, creating four sizes – a small for young children and three sizing options for adults. Although the masks aren’t N95 grade – “the most common of the seven types of particulate filtering facepiece respirators,” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – they will protect wearers by reducing the intake of infectious particles, as well as serve as a barrier to prevent people from touching their faces.
“At the same time, the previous week, I had been in touch with friends who work for various clothing manufacturers in the city and learned they had lost their jobs,” he recalls. “They are people who are very skilled and are just very adept and quick at pivoting things.”
Drummond decided these skilled souls would become seamstresses as part of this project.
“So I have a team of 10 seamstresses and a former colleague of mine who is an amazing production manager, and we set up a fund,” Drummond says. “The idea was, my production manager and I would deliver the materials to their [the seamstresses’] door, they would manufacture them, we would pick them up and take them to the fire department, and they would distribute them as needed. No human interaction.”
The tenacious team will be making 14,000 masks in a 45-day time frame before handing them to the St. Louis Fire Department for distribution.
“They are happy to partner with us, which is fantastic,” Drummond says. “My concern was, again, limiting human contact. I was like, if this is going to work, we can’t be going to every hospital in the city. The thought was if we put these into the hands of emergency workers like the fire department, they will know best where their usage is.”
Just as the project was about to be released to the public, the Saint Louis Fashion Fund received a $70,000 donation from longtime supporter Michelle Trulaske and her children, Kay and Steven. The project also received a large textile donation from Carr Textiles in St. Louis to produce its masks.
“We were so impressed that Michael and the [fund] could pull together such a significant effort and wanted to do our part,” Trulaske says. “We hope others will rise to the occasion and continue the wonderful work of Michael and his team of stitchers.”
Although Drummond believes this might be just the beginning of this need – gowns being a potential future piece to the project – he is holding on to hope.
“Come 45 days or before the 45 days, we will have a sense of where we are,” he says. “God willing, though, we won’t need any of them.”
Saint Louis Fashion Fund, 1533 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314-400-9300, saintlouisfashionfund.org
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!