Portrait of boy wearing cloth face mask

A Mask for the Times

Adapting to the Unexpected

Ed note: Foxlilie Studio is a local Lyons business that produces handmade kids clothing and accessories. Below, founder and CMO (Chief Mom Officer), Susanne Drucker shares her story on how her company needed to learn to pivot to address the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you had told me when the year flipped 2020 that we would be experiencing a global pandemic by the Springtime, I wouldn’t have believed you. A lot has happened in everyone’s lives over the last six months, a lot of tough moments as well as a lot of inspiring human spirit out there. After the initial shock, my own mama bear spirit kicked in around day seven and I knew I had to take my commitment to community, my passion for design, and (the ridiculous stacks of fabric remnants I refuse to get rid of even if they take over every closet in the house) and do something positive. So, after no less than six prototypes and 33 mistakes, I designed a mask for the times, fit for families to stay safe while venturing outside their homes!

Back in March, when the world shifted in the span of a few days, it was difficult to imagine how we might adapt to this strange new reality. It felt unfamiliar and with no ending in sight. With well-laid plans for 2020 quickly dashed and a curated calendar of in-person events now cancelled for the unforeseeable future, the impossibility of it all was enough to make you want to throw in the towel. But then, I remembered the dreams I felt just a few weeks earlier when the virus still seemed elusive and far from harm, ideas for economic growth and for new paths yet explored. Surely, the optimism for the coming year still meant something. I knew I was not ready to give up in my heart but, I had to think outside the box and beyond what had worked up to this point.

I thought of the recently launched marketing campaign released in February for Foxlilie, designed to reach more customers online, an area I hoped to explore and grow. Now, I had the time to devote it. With in-person sales on hold, I had to find another way to reach my customers anyway. I searched my thoughts for the silver-lining of the situation and found it in the quiet space that now inhabited our homes and lives. Without the distractions and buzz of going out before the pandemic, there was space to think now. This was the gift of the pandemic. We could go outside. We could be in nature. We could spend more time with our families at home. And we would need a mask to protect ourselves and our communities in order to keep our small businesses from going under.

With the raw materials and the means to source supplies from my experience making clothing, I was optimistic for this new mask venture. I quickly took inventory of what I had on hand and began searching for a sewing pattern that I could adapt for Foxlilie. There were plenty of masks at the ready to make online but, none that quite fit what I had envisioned. I persevered anyway testing each version with scrutiny. An early prototype had ties around the head made sense but when I took it for a test run to the grocery store, I spent the whole time adjusting the fit and ahhh…touching my face. So, I returned to the drawing table repeatedly until it worked. Then, I put my small team of local pattern makers and contract sewers back to work safely. This talented group used to turn my clothing ideas into beautifully crafted and workable garments like magic before this strange time. And with my supply of bespoke fabric remnants, I made my first batch of 25 masks and sold them right away. With 3 comfortable sizes for kids and adults, I hoped to support all of my community with a mask for the whole family. Plus, for every Foxlilie fabric mask purchased, I planned to donate masks to front line workers that need them most, to help keep our communities safe!

As I look back on those early days of the pandemic, I am comforted by what was accomplished despite the complicated times. Since that first round of 25 masks, the Foxlilie fabric mask has changed very little with the exception of adjustable ear loops…making it even more comfortable now for everyday use! I am proud of the human spirit that continues to persevere through tough times. I feel such joy when I hear from those on the front lines, in grocery stores and health clinics, how happy they are with their Foxlilie donation! We’re still all in this together. Hundreds of masks later, I am hopeful that the small cottage industry can survive 2020 and get through this unusual time. It’s not what I expected nor is it without challenges but, I forge ahead anyway. Why not smile with our eyes in our masks with style and grace while doing it?