Made in Michiana: Local seamstress making face masks for essential workers

SOUTH BEND, Ind.— A local seamstress is using her supplies to create and donate face masks to protect their community.

For the past two months the South Bend Seamstress’ parking lot off of Lincoln Way West has been empty.

The staff never thought they would be trading in their wedding dresses and costumes to start making face masks.

Yet they say the switch was an easy choice if they could continue to help their South Bend community through this tough time.

The South Bend Seamstress group has made just about anything you can imagine.

“So these pictures are just a gallery of the things that we have done,” said Jennifer Stevens, owner of the South Bend Seamstress.

From wedding dresses, to a full on cookie monster costume, to even the iconic Notre Dame Leprechaun outfits.

“We always want to make sure that those are making them feel special for the big day that they have,” said Stevens.

However, the coronavirus has delayed or cancelled many of the big life events Jennifer Stevens’ alteration shop typically cater’s to during their busy season.

“Typically around March we start with prom and then prom leads right into wedding season,” said Stevens. “And so we have completely missed all of that.”

Once stay at home orders went into effect, the usually buzzing sewing machines—went quiet.

“We basically shut down because there is no way for us to be able to do fittings and things like that and maintain social distancing,” said Stevens.

Leaving the owner and the small business she built over the last 5 years scrambling to pick up the pieces.

“It’s been very hard,” said Stevens. “As a small business we depend on the influx of what we’re getting from our customers and that stopped and basically went to zero.”

Immediately Stevens sought out government aid to try and keep the company afloat.

“We were able to get the payroll protection loan but the way it’s set up it really doesn’t help us very much,” said Stevens.

But without further monetary help, Stevens had to make some tough decisions. 

“Currently I have one other main seamstress I had two prior to close. We laid off both of the seamstresses,” said Stevens.

From cutting her staff in half, to closing down completely, she never thought face masks would be a product she would invest in.

“I wasn’t going to do it because I didn’t have the funds to do it,” said Stevens.

Let alone, a product she would pursue to make ends meet.

“But when they started requiring masks for everyone I was like well you know I could make a few dollars to help the business get by,” said Stevens.

With wedding dresses, specialty costumes, and other alterations off the table for the time being—Stevens dove into the digital world by making an online site for her masks.

“On the website they are sold individually so you get to choose what type of mask you want and there are different options you can add to the mask,” said Stevens.

You can choose the specific mask ties, whether or not it has a filter pocket, and even the fabric!

“Part of ours that is different we customize the masks so every mask is made to order,” said Stevens.

And because Stevens was born and raised right here in Michiana she added a bit of South Bend pride to the order forms.

“We had fabric printed up with the South Bend flag and “I heart South Bend” on them to make them a little more supportive of the city,” said Stevens.

Customization isn’t the only thing that makes these mask maskers stand out.

“We have a buy one donate one program,” said Stevens. “So anytime anyone purchases a mask from us we also donate a mask to an essential worker that has signed up and requested one from us.”

If you are an essential worker in need of a mask all you have to do it go online to their website:

Then fill out a simple form with your name, essential work, mask preferences, and then method of pick up so the seamstresses can get the hand crafted mask to you as fast as they can.

“I would say we have made close to 800-1,000 and then we would donate that many,” said Stevens. “We haven’t had that much of a response of essential workers signing up but for every essential worker signing up they have gotten a mask.”

But why take the time, the supplies, and effort to create these masks.

“Just knowing people are taking that step to be safe and help to protect their neighbor,” said Stevens. “I definitely think we should all be wearing masks. Just, whether we are sick or not it just going to help the area.”

Even with a safety first mentality business owners like Jennifer are still left with a lot of uncertainty.

“Do we re-open? Is it going to be worth it? And there’s really no way to tell,” said Stevens. “So we’ve decided to reopen and try it, but who knows what the rest of the year will look like. And so it’s really just that question of as a small business am I going to be able to am I going to be able to sustain myself to continue?”

So the South Bend Seamstress company says they are just going to keep positive and pushing ahead.

“We will hopefully pick up some wedding business but we’ll see,” says Stevens.

The group hopes to reopen their store on June 1st but says for now, it is a wait and see game.

Steven’s hopes to be able to help make people’s dream creations come alive again soon.

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