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Annah Stretton - Facing up to community need

Waikato Fashion designer Annah Stretton has been flat out during these extraordinary times.

Mobilising a team of 10 Waikato home-based sewers, more than 15,000 reusable fabric facemasks have been made and distributed from her Morrinsville headquarters in just a month.

“It has been a lot busier than I thought we would be, kind of manic, which is a good thing,” she says.

The facemask idea was born after a request came in just before the lockdown to make a few thousand masks for a community organisation she had connections with.

After coming up with an improved design, Annah gained essential service status and her team set about making more. And more and more, as demand grew.

One pack of masks is donated to community organisations for every mask pack purchased on their online store.

Reflecting on the events of the last month, Annah says a combination of factors led to the ‘perfect storm.’

With almost 30 years in the fashion industry she had acquired a lot of fabric, threads and trims.

So far, there has been a huge demand for men – which had an unexpected consequence.

“Being in womens’ fashion, and the label that we are, brown was always the colour that was the most difficult to use, so I just had rolls and rolls of brown fabric,” 

“Then when the men came in it was just a wonderful way to use all this brown cotton fabric. They appear quite happy to wear brown on their face.” 

“We have had so many orders from construction companies, moving companies, logging companies, forestry companies…”

Annah points out the masks are not intended to replace surgical masks.

“But what we do know, is that they reduce anxiety and they stop hand and mouth transition and if you get sick, they will prevent droplets moving around.”

There is another good reason – it is good for the planet. “They certainly prevent more landfill.”

Single packs of three masks sell for $19.99, with a $5 freight charge.

While everyone awaits to see what ‘the new normal’ may look like, Annah and her team are already coming up with new ideas and responding to feedback.

For example, a Facebook friend suggested adding buttons to a headband to hook on the elastic part of the facemask as it relieves the ears of those that wear masks for longer timeframes.

“So, it is a nicely innovative and collaborative space that we are operating in, when people say to us ‘have you thought about….’ And we give it a go.”

They are also able to support other local businesses, as well as keep their head office staff at work. For example, the mask elastic is produced in New Zealand, which they have been able to source.

And the local courier driver, who is paid by the parcel, is delighted to do a large pick up of small parcels when he comes in every day at 3pm, when other work is depleted, right now.

Next on the agenda, is dealing with ‘lockdown hair” with a range of headbands for sale on their online store, as the country moves into Level 3. 

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