April 24, 2020 at 10:21PM
Since the middle of March, Toronto-based swimwear brand Ūnika Swim has been navigating uncharted waters (much like everyone else). “Due to the fact that we cut, sew, and produce all of our pieces by hand in the studio, we had no other option but to shut down,” says founder Betsy Campos of the brand’s decision following the COVID-19 pandemic. She notes that the health and safety of her team and clients was top priority.
But soon after, Campos felt a sense of guilt. “Here I was, the founder of a company with a full production facility, sleeping at night knowing that there was demand for PPE,” she says. “As the daughter of someone working on the front lines, it really hit home and I knew I had to do something.”
Fast forward about a month, and Campos is now working alongside adidas Canada to make a positive impact in their shared community. And it happened rather naturally. Being at the helm of a sustainable, inclusive and eco-friendly brand, Campos wanted to take the best approach to minimizing waste while producing masks for those in need. As swimwear makers, their deadstock doesn’t include cotton, so she had to think external. Campos then pitched the idea to adidas Canada to recycle and repurpose their athletic wear inventory.
“Adidas is good at organically knitting themselves into different communities by highlighting leaders that are making changes in diverse circles and neighborhoods, so they agreed to donate the material,” Campos explains. It also helped that the two brands were already working together on projects that were set to launch during the coming months, had COVID-19 not struck.
In deciding on the design and construction of the masks, Campos took her time researching the best option. “I wanted to hear from [people] working on the front lines [so I spoke] to doctors, nurses and health care practitioners, and I got the answers that I needed. The three major complaints I kept hearing from medical staff about donated masks were the elasticity hurting their ears, coverage, and quality of the masks being donated.”
With a fashion background, she and her team designed surgical mask covers that could be worn over an N95 mask to prolong the life period of the N95 mask. To fulfill that wish for comfort, they designed the mask with two adjustable string ties, rather than having an elastic loop around the ears.
“The demand for masks has been extremely overwhelming,” she says. The entrepreneur is constantly at the post office mailing packages out to different hospitals, clinics, doctors, nurses and medical professionals all over Toronto (she recently added New York and Dallas, Texas to the list), on top of sewing from 10 am to 8 pm daily. “I consider myself a pretty disciplined person, therefore I’ve been sticking to my daily routine and schedule,” she says, nodding toward her Capricorn nature. “I find that it helps to keep me motivated and inspires me to feel like I have purpose during these uncertain times.”
In addition to her busy schedule these days, clients, friends and family are asking to purchase masks from her, although she admits she doesn’t feel right taking money for something that is extremely needed at this time. “I strongly believe that companies with production lines should be using their facilities to give back to those sacrificing their health and safety for all of us. As consumerism is declining with the uncertainty of what the future holds, along with employment, it’s so important to be a leader during these unpredicted times,” she says. “It’s an opportunity for us to thank those in need and give back to the community that always supports us.”
ICYMI: A selection of Toronto-based fashion brands have teamed up on a COVID-19 relief initiative this weekend.
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