How Our Tiny Shop Got Into The Mask Biz

Posted by Laura Howe on

Our double-sided, sustainably made, gorgeous $10 Matrushka face masks have been getting a lot of attention lately! From NBC’s Today to PopSugar to We Like LA, Los Angeles Magazine and The Guardian, the positive reports have poured in from the United States and beyond. Pretty wild, considering we only started selling masks to help continue our practice of donating them to folks in need! Here’s the story of our masks, which continue to be among the most affordable, popular new nonmedical face coverings.

When the coronavirus pandemic began to gain wider coverage in the United States, Matrushka designer Laura Howe knew she wanted to be a part of making things better for people in Los Angeles who don’t have a choice about going to work. She made and donated several to a VA hospital on the West side of the city, as well as to the Griffith Park rangers. For years, Laura has volunteered with a nonprofit that preserves the wild beauty of this gigantic 4,210-acre municipal park, so it just felt like a natural connection.

When Laura began making and donating masks, the CDC wasn’t recommending masks for the general population. But as time went on, it became clear that these were needed – after all, people were wearing nonmedical grade face coverings in plenty of other countries hit by the viral pandemic. Sure, they couldn’t keep the virus out in the way that the highly coveted N95 masks could, but they could help remind people not to touch their faces, could block some of a sneeze or a cough, and could serve as a visual reminder to maintain social distancing.

As soon as Mayor Eric Garcetti recommended face coverings in public and began the #LAPROTECTS initiative, the small team at Matrushka jumped into action to provide masks at an affordable price point. And we did it overnight.

Matrushka began selling via Instagram on April 1, and pivoted to website-only sales shortly thereafter. Cost was a big concern, and Laura settled on $10. While the storefront boutique in Silverlake’s Sunset Junction neighborhood does have some well-to-do celebrity clients, most loyal Matrushka community members have historically been a diverse group of working-class and middle-class people in Los Angeles. We wanted to serve them, first and foremost.

$10 turned out to be one of the lowest prices out there, and our unusual scrap fabric patterns started getting great attention right away. We were soon flooded with orders. In fact, Laura turned to part-time craftspeople within the community to do some of the work from their own homes! Who would’ve thought a clothing boutique that used to do only 20% of its business online would suddenly conduct all business on the web and be able to create a few part-time jobs for skilled workers?

Whether she’s 18 or 80, the Matrushka customer tends to be funky, open-minded and creative, with a good sense of humor. Our masks reflect that.

We do our best to increase sustainability all the time, keeping waste to an absolute minimum. Laura makes extra fabric in downtown Los Angeles that would otherwise be discarded, and in ordinary times a small team of three makes each clothing item individually for each client. That’s why we are different – people can order dresses in sizes XS – 4X, but they can also give us their measurements and we’ll make a custom item at no extra charge.

People can continue to use our high quality, washable masks after this is over. You can use them when doing a home improvement project or working in your garden. You can use them when traveling on an airplane. Maybe one day they’ll be a part of your grandkid’s Halloween costume.

Thank you to everybody who has been posting their masks with the hashtags #MyMatrushka or #MatrushkaMasks. It makes the 12-hour days of sewing worth it.

We’re so grateful to all our new clients, and hope they will continue to be a part of our community of creative friends for a long time to come. Please remember us in happier times, too – we do everything from bridal couture to prom dresses to Academy Awards dresses and Emmys red carpet looks.

We may not always be in the mask business, but we hope to always be in the business of making people happier. Take good care of yourselves, and check in to say hi now and again, okay? Thank you!

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