Lia Wallfish adds bursts of color to times of darkness with her face masks.
After graduating with a degree in costume design and entrepreneurship in 2019, the alumna started her own clothing company, Simplicity Vintage, in September. After working in Los Angeles’ fashion scene, she said she discovered how unsustainable the industry is – and she no longer wanted to contribute to the problem, prompting her to start her own business.
But everything changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit. After being laid off from her job, Wallfish said she started selling colorful masks online. Initially, she only sold to friends and family, but as the demand for masks increased, Wallfish experienced a sudden growth in her company’s popularity. But because of the financial hardships many people are facing, Wallfish said she wanted to ensure that her masks would be both practical and reasonably priced.
“Affordability became a huge goal for me,” Wallfish said. “I wanted anyone to be able to buy one. I had a lot of friends and family tell me I was undercharging, but I really enjoyed the creative challenge of making masks at a manageable price.”
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Wallfish created her own website and also promotes her products through social media. In addition to selling her masks for $7.50 each, she said the order and delivery process has also been an obstacle to her small company. As of right now, she is unable to do any pick-ups, said Anne Schneider, a Simplicity Vintage costumer. Even though Wallfish’s company is technically considered an essential business, she has been asked to deliver all orders and strictly adhere to social distancing practices.
“It’s hard because I do a lot of the sewing work in my garage,” Wallfish said. “People walk by and want to purchase masks right there on the spot. It’s really difficult to have to turn them away.”
One of the reasons passersby are attracted to the masks is because they are covered in colorful prints and distinctive designs, ranging from fruits and vegetables to flowers and polka dots. Wallfish said her background in costume design has helped her produce masks that are both attractive and functional. The masks are made with 100% cotton and she offers two different styles: one with elastic around the ears and another that wraps around the head.
Along with the fit of the mask, Wallfish said the aesthetic is also very important. Combining cute prints with utility, she said, helps incentivize people to comply with the safety orders. She has also started selling matching scrunchies and headbands along with her masks, encouraging people to find creative ways to express themselves during quarantine.
Shany Albalak, one of Wallfish’s close friends, said she and her boyfriend bought coordinating masks: a watermelon and a lemon lime print. Albalak said the masks are vibrant and eccentric, unlike other ones she’s seen. Most people are wearing medical masks or ones with solid colors, but Wallfish’s fun designs add levity to the pandemic, she said.
This has been especially true for Schneider, she said. Her father is a first responder and has been personally impacted by Wallfish’s masks.
“This is a very intense time for us,” Schneider said. “He’s very involved with this crisis and has been making some tough decisions in the hospital. But on his way to and from the hospital, he wears the masks and always comments on how cute they are. They have really brightened his day, and it makes everything a little less depressing.”
Wallfish said weaving in these artistic prints allowed her to explore a different side of the industry by intertwining fashion with durability. That has always been the goal with the company, she said.
“Black masks make me sad,” she said. “This time is very stressful, and it’s easy to feel hopeless. But wearing fun prints is a way to cope with the situation. Seeing people express themselves through the masks has been really amazing.”