With the coronavirus pandemic and a world devoid of any precedent, masks have become a hot topic of conversation. Those who have embraced mask wearing have found ways to take their protective gear and make it an extension of self-expression.
Boutiques, like And Then LB, have expanded on their existing businesses while new operations, like Mama Hanh’s masks and Long Beach Face Masks have risen to prominence.
Katie Hectus in an And Then LB blueberry face mask.
Katie Hectus hopes that people continue to wear masks when they are sick even after the pandemic ends.
“Wearing a mask has somehow become politicized, but to me it’s really just a very simple thing that you can do to protect the people in your community,” Hectus said. “One thing this last year has taught me is that we need to take care of each other and masks have been a pretty easy, and cute, way to do that.”
Hectus started And Then LB in March 2017. She admits she was nervous about bringing in masks to the store at the beginning of the pandemic due to the shortage of PPE for healthcare workers, but soon she was able to buy masks from family owned businesses in Long Beach.
“Once it became clear that there was enough supply of medical masks for essential workers and that these were going to be a part of our lives for a long while, I decided to bring in some options that would feel like a fun purchase rather than a creepy post apocalyptic one,” Hectus said.
And Then LB offers a mix of vintage, secondhand and new clothing. The boutique is known for their optimistic, playful and trendy styles. Hectus shared that their first mask style was a happy face print, but her current favorite style to wear is anything with a fruit print.
Masks from And Then LB are available online or at the shop at 3803 Atlantic Ave, Long Beach in Bixby Knolls.
Maythe Alderete Gonzalez, Co-Owner of Long Beach Face Masks
Alderete Gonzalez is a fifth year majoring in women’s gender and sexuality studies and minoring in human development. They are also the current vice president of Associated Students, Inc.
In July 2020, they launched Long Beach Face Masks.
“It really started because of the BLM movement,” said Alderete Gonzalez. “Me and my older sibling wanted to do a fundraiser and I had just started making the masks.”
Alderete Gonzalez built this business out of an urge to give back to the community, using the skills that they had learned in a sewing class in 2018 along with YouTube tutorials to start making homemade masks.
“It was a lot of trial and error,” Alderete Gonzalez said. “I literally spent, probably, two days straight trying to sew because I hadn’t touched my sewing machine in about a year.”
Alderete Gonzalez admits that they have struggled to balance their studies and the business, but is dedicated to donating part of the proceeds as well as providing proper protection to the Long Beach community. Long Beach Face Masks has been able to donate to organizations like the Long Beach Immigration Rights Coalition and Black Lives Matter Long Beach.
“One thing to remember is to be kind to one another,” Alderete Gonzalez said. “We’re all human beings and a simple thing, like wearing a mask, can literally save someone’s life.”
Though Alderete Gonzalez loves the new Valentine’s Day collection, their favorite mask style has been anything Disney related. To order a mask from Long Beach Face Masks you can visit @lbcmasks on Instagram.
Hanh Nguyen, Creator and Maker of Mama Hanh’s Masks
Hanh Nguyen has devoted her life to serving her community. After educating for more than 25 years, the pandemic forced Nguyen to retire. With her extra time at home, she used sewing skills that she had learned as a young teen in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
“She had to learn many trade crafts to survive in a tumultuous time,” said Ava Nguyen, communications and outreach manager of Mama Hanh’s Masks. “She used her sewing skills at the start of April 2020 to make masks for family, friends and local medical professionals.”
Mama Hanh felt the need to help her community. In April 2020, she began to make masks for family, friends and medical professionals. When it became clear that masks would become the norm for the long haul, she opened Mama Hanh’s masks, hoping to generate enough revenue to donate on a larger scale.
Mama Hanh’s Masks has partnered with organizations like the SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition, Polos Pantry, Resisterhood and many more local organizations.
“These partnerships have really educated us on the needs of our unhoused neighbors as well as ignited us to be more active in seeking justice and resources for the unhoused,” said Nguyen. “We hope that the community becomes closer and bigger from this experience.”
Nguyen emphasizes the need for safety and community during this time. She describes mask wearing as an act of “radical love for your neighbor,” and a fun way to express yourself. The team’s favorite mask collection is currently their Sedona selection because it reminds them of their camping trips to Sedona. Mama Hanh’s Masks are available on Etsy or on their Instagram page, @mama.hanhs.masks.