Long Beach upcycling company pivots to manufacture free, reusable face masks

A Long Beach-based design and manufacturing company is raising funds to manufacture face masks they are giving to individuals at high risk of contracting the novel coronavirus as well as medical professionals who are running out of proper protection.

Upcycle it Now, a small business dedicated to turning used or unwanted materials into functional products such as pouches and purses has pivoted into making reusable masks which they are giving away for free to those most vulnerable.

“With this effort, we can give the general public the protection they need while reducing the demand on hospital supplies outside the hospital,” the company’s Gofundme stated.

The company has a $50,000 goal. So far, about 100 people have donated over $14,000 to the project, which follow CDC guidelines that state if no other option is available, homemade, fabric masks can be used.

Upcycle it Now’s mask design covers the nose and chin and sides of the face, using tightly woven, breathable cotton to keep droplets out, or in, depending on the wearer’s health condition. It also prevents people from touching their faces.

Co-founder Christina Johnson said the tightly woven fabric reduces the number of particles that can make it through, especially when someone sneezes or if you’re around people that are ill.

Johnson and her mother, Liz Bordessa, began donating their time to start making the masks over the weekend, initially based off a surgeon’s design. Right now, between the two of them, their goal is to make about 100 masks per day with bought and donated fabric.

The finished ones are washed through high-heat sanitation, then taken out of the dryer while wearing gloves, they place the masks in poly bags, maintaining as little contact as possible with the finished product before it reaches its user. The masks can be washed using a high-heat, sanitation setting and reused as often as needed until they break, said Johnson.

“We redesigned them today,” Johnson said Monday, March 23. “We’re on the third iteration right now. We left a place where you can slide additional filters in between the lining and the top of the fabric. We don’t have medical grade material, but we can offer a mask where nurses can slide their medical mask in between, at least upping the protection they’ll get.”

On Saturday, Upcycle it Now asked for assistance on Instagram in reaching out to shuttered hotels that may be able to spare unused bed sheets, which fits their fabric specifications of 133 x 72 thread count, as well as help in identifying those most in need of their finished product.

Comments on their Instagram account @upcycleitnow include nurses asking when they can pick up the masks for their hospitals and people asking for instructions on how to make their own.

Affected by the shutdowns caused by coronavirus safety measures, Upcycle it Now gave its employees two weeks paid time off, and immediately closed, while continuing to look for opportunities to help the community. If they receive enough funding, they say they’re hoping to bring back their team and make 500 masks a day.

How you can help: If you have unused or barely used sheets, you can drop them off at a bin Johnson said they placed outside of their location at 6545 E. Pacific Coast Hwy, near the Bevmo and Trader Joe’s on 2nd Street and Pacific Coast Highway.

Donate to their Gofundme page, here.

They’re also looking for help with distributing the masks in bulk, and are hoping people can pick them up and distribute them to their communities and those in need.

“We want to put all our focus into just making them,” Johnson said.

Upcycle it Now co-founder Christina Johnson wearing a prototype of one of their reusable face masks. Courtesy Gofundme/Upcycle it Now.

More than two decades ago, Bordessa started a tailoring and alteration business with her sister in Long Beach, Just Alterations, but was impacted by the 2008 recession. Searching for another way to supplement the business and keep her employees, she and her daughter, Johnson, founded Upcycle it Now.

The company upcycles material, the process of transforming waste materials into products of better quality. For example, they upcycled banners that once hung at the Long Beach Museum of Art into satchels for the museum’s gift shop, among other sustainability-focused initiaves with companies including Patagonia and Disneyland.

To visit Upcycle it Now’s Gofundme page, click here. To contact Christina Johnson, email [email protected] and Liz Bordessa at [email protected]

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.