When Martha Valdes, the creative behind the brand Martha of Miami, turned off the lights and locked the doors of her shop La Tiendecita on March 19, she drove home with a heavy heart. The decision to close, she knows, was the right thing to do for her employees and the community amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
"It was emotional in the sense that I had literally just opened [the store] within the year," Valdes says. "I had to close the doors, but I'm lucky enough to still have all my merchandise available online on my website."
During the first week of self-isolation at home with her dog, Cookie of Miami, the young entrepreneur was restless. She felt like she needed to do something to help. That's when she had the idea of creating Martha of Miami facemasks for hospital workers.
The news media was regularly reporting a shortage of masks for medical workers. Other fashion designers, notably two former Project Runway winners, Cristian Siriano and Erin Robertson, have been garnering attention for shifting gears from gowns to masks.
On March 30, Valdes posted a video to her Instagram page introducing her masks. A double-sided design featured either cafecito cups or VivapoRu containers on one side and the phrase "Tápate la boca" ("Cover your mouth") on the other. The polyester masks are made with an adjustable strap and are washable. Initially, the designer set out to make the masks herself and donate them to local hospitals, but she quickly realized she couldn't take on the endeavor alone.
"When I listed them on my site, I made them buy one, donate one because that was the only way I'd feel morally right selling them," Valdes says. "I knew that if I were to sell them on their own, they'd sell, but that's not the purpose of this. The purpose of this is to help."
Less than 24 hours after making the masks available for purchase online, she had amassed 602 donated masks. As of Sunday morning, April 5, she's up to 4,563.
The spike in purchases and donations is likely attributed to the latest statement from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued Friday, April 3, encouraging the general public to wear face coverings outside the house to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"I've never had a product sell this much," she says, adding that the demand has become so great she's had to make some adjustments. As of April 5, she has discontinued the original designs, and now only a black mask with "Tápate la boca" in white block letters on one side is available. The decision to offer only one design will decrease production time and allow orders to be fulfilled faster.
"These are things people need now," says Valdes, crestfallen. "I want to be able to get these done and shipped faster, but the manpower is not there."
Valdes hopes to be able to donate masks to all the local hospitals. So far, she has sent boxes of masks to Baptist, Jackson, South Miami, Mercy, Hialeah, Kendall Regional, Nicklaus Children's, and Broward Health Medical Center.
"I'm glad that I am able to produce this and make this happen," Valdes says humbly. "They're not the N95, they're not medical grade, but they're something."
However, Valdes' nurse friends have reassured her they are grateful. They're using her creations as a cover for the few N95 masks distributed at their hospital to make them last longer.
Although customers continue to shop her regular catalog of offerings online, Valdes admits she's not creating anything new at the moment. "I'm not making any new designs right now. I just want to focus on making the masks because that is something that is needed right now."
She has, however, been receiving plenty of requests from nurses for Martha of Miami-branded scrubs and headpieces. "There might be a market there for me [after all this]," she says with a laugh. "I'm just thankful that I can help right now."
For each $11 "Tápate la Boca" facemask purchased, one will be donated to a local hospital. Visit marthaofmiami.com.