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Spreading the love, one mask at a time

Lauryn Azu

Oct 23, 2020

UW-Madison junior creates homemade mask business and raises money for the United Negro College Fund.

Scraps of fabric, Post-it Notes, elastic strips and plastic bags lie clustered around a shiny white sewing machine in the Abrams family dining room. This room has changed from a pristine eating space to a workspace for University of Wisconsin-Madison third-year textile and fashion design major Allegra Abrams. It is the heart of Luv Ya Mask: Allegra’s short-term project turned home fabric face mask business, based in her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring and changed life in this country indefinitely, Allegra wondered what she could do to help her friends and neighbors. Noticing the shortage of personal protective equipment during the first tumultuous weeks, she took stock of her supplies and recruited her mother to help her begin making masks and nursing caps for family friends in New York City.

She didn’t know if Luv Ya Mask would last longer than a week. She originally thought that at most, her friends and family would want to see fabrics and mask prototypes on an Instagram page. However, after a few orders, Allegra envisioned reaching a wider audience. In May, she recruited her twin sister, Sophia, to help build a website for her brand.

“It was really a shock how well the business has been doing,” Allegra said.

In this way, Luv Ya Mask went from a solo to a family affair. The dynamic of running a business within the family home has compelled the Abrams family to work on communicating with each other. Allegra’s mother, Amanda, has served as her second-in-command, cutting fabric and accompanying her to local craft stores. Allegra calls her father, Martin, her ‘angel investor’ for funding the website and domain. Her older brother, Sam, assisted with pricing models and bookkeeping. In addition to the website, Sophia will drive Allegra to the post office so she can ship orders.

“I think it’s also gotten us closer because it’s something where we’re all using all of our different skills,” Allegra said.

As for the name? Allegra was considering a few options until her mother remarked how she always said ‘love ya!’ before leaving the home. In a time where she thought love and positivity were needed more than ever, Luv Ya Mask was born.

Orders were steady up until June when the police killing of George Floyd brought national attention to Minneapolis and the struggle for racial justice in her hometown. She wanted to attend protests, and did go to a few smaller ones, but was also afraid of getting COVID-19. The initiative to support Black-owned businesses at that time brought Luv Ya Mask customers from coast to coast.

“It definitely was hard because there were days where I just didn’t work, I was just like, ‘this is too much,’ it was just chaos in this city,” Allegra said.

From the stress of launching a business amidst remote college finals season to the stress of seeing her hometown suffer, Allegra thought her best contribution to the movement was to donate a portion of her proceeds to the United Negro College Fund because she knew that COVID-19 was affecting Black communities disproportionately and she wanted to help students like herself.

If she wasn’t running a mask business from home, Allegra said she would have returned to New York City, the initial epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States, to work as a fashion intern like she did last summer. It could be argued that Allegra is getting just as much, if not more, out of running Luv Ya Mask than if she was just a nameless intern at some Fifth Avenue fashion powerhouse. She has strengthened her sewing skills. She knows how to market her brand to her target audience. She is running a tight ship in the Abrams home, and she has even conquered USPS shipping fees.

“I know she’s a fashion major and I’ve seen her sew stuff – but to see her be able to apply her skills into a more utilitarian purpose, but still retain her creativity, was really cool,” Sophia said.

Allegra said she gets a lot of inspiration from big-name fashion designers, like Christian Siriano, who are including unique masks in their collections and donating to help those most affected by the pandemic.

“There are so many ways you can accessorize them or jazz them up, I put beads on some of my elastics, I’ve made matching accessories for them,” Allegra said.

One of the most rewarding parts of Luv Ya Mask for Allegra is her ability to contribute in a way she never has before. She plans to release voting-themed masks before the November election and hopes to donate proceeds to organizations preventing voter suppression.

“Trying to come up with a way to help people was really important when I started the brand,” Allegra said.

She’s come a long way from using old bedsheets to create mask ties during quarantine elastic shortages. Over $12,000 in profit and more than 700 handmade masks later, Allegra isn’t ready to slow down Luv Ya Mask quite yet, especially as the pandemic appears to be nowhere near over.

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