Masks for Frontline Workers

July 8, 2020

 

 

Kiya Tomlin wasn’t sure what direction her business would take once shelter-in-place orders were issued, forcing her to shutter her single-building facility inclusive of a storefront and manufacturing operation. 

 

Tomlin, who is married to Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, was just about to launch her spring collection for Kiya Tomlin Clothing when the coronavirus COVID-19 shut down non-essential businesses.

 

Tomlin was able to take advantage of the Payroll Protection Program, one of the few lucky ones. Ninety percent of minority-owned and women-owned businesses were shut out of the stimulus package. 

 

“I wanted to make sure I could keep my staff employed and assuage their anxiety about getting paychecks,” Tomlin said. “It got us through. I didn’t want to take out a loan if I didn’t have to, but for most businesses, the initial round of funding wasn’t enough money to last past May.

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Tomlin connected with Allegheny Health Network to explore providing masks for health care workers and found a high demand.

“I estimated that we could make 500 masks a week,” Tomlin said. “The demand grew from there, and we couldn’t say no. We are donating the masks to health care workers and other frontline workers.”

 

She and her team are now sewing at least 14 hours a day and producing 100 masks a person. Each clothing order also includes two washable cotton masks. Tomlin’s recent email to customers suggests, “One for you, and one for you to thank someone on the front line, whether it is a healthcare worker or grocery store clerk or mail carrier.” 

 

In April, Forbes.com included Kiya Tomlin in its roundup of “30+ fashion brands pivoting to make stylish coronavirus masks.” 

 

“The outpouring of personal support has been great,” Tomlin said. “I keep telling my team that we’ve had a lot of sales due to discounts and making masks. We’re doing OK, but I don’t know what the rest of the year looks like financially.” 

 

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The Crisis magazine is a quarterly journal of politics, culture, civil rights and history that seeks to educate and challenge its readers about issues facing African-Americans and other communities of color.

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