Cloth mask makers expecting 'quite the rush' after Sydney mask mandate
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Cloth mask makers expecting 'quite the rush' after Sydney mask mandate

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Cloth mask makers across Sydney are gearing up for a spike in demand after the announcement that masks would be mandatory in certain settings in NSW from midnight on Saturday.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced at the daily COVID-19 update that masks would be required in shops, supermarkets and shopping centres, public or shared transport, indoor entertainment such as cinemas, places of worship, and hair and beauty salons.

The mandate takes effect Sunday, with $200 on-the-spot fines for non-compliance from Monday.

Mask maker Sophie Alais.

Mask maker Sophie Alais.Credit:Steven Siewert

Mask maker Sophie Alais, co-founder of Saving Face Co, welcomed the announcement as "fantastic but also probably overdue".

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"Masks are such an easy way to prevent the spread of coronavirus and I think it's really important in these times that you think about community, and masks aren't just about protecting yourself, but protecting everyone else who could potentially be vulnerable," Ms Alais said.

Ms Alais and her business partner Isa Crossland Stone launched their e-commerce business selling locally made face masks with designs by Australian artists in July. At the time, Sydney was dealing with the Crossroads Hotel outbreak and Victoria was headed for a severe lockdown, and the entrepreneurs were at the post office twice a day sending about 30 packages.

With a full retail price of $32, the company donates $3 from every mask sold to the Asylum Seeker Centre in Newtown. Ms Alais said they had donated $3000 so far, suggesting the company had sold 1000 masks in total.

But before the Avalon cluster, business was quieter.

"We were thinking in December, when everything was quite cheery that we wouldn't have to make any more masks, we could just keep selling our current stock," Ms Alais said. "But I think given the lack of mask uptake among Sydneysiders, we might have quite the rush [now]."

Vaucluse-based bow tie maker Nicholas Atgemis from Le Noeud Papillon Sydney had to switch his business to face masks and cushion covers to survive the pandemic and keep his staff employed. His bow ties had been popular with medical specialist consultants - who were mostly wearing scrubs in 2020 - and wedding parties, which were off the agenda for most of the year.

Artisan tie and bow tie maker Nicholas Atgemis has been making face masks during the pandemic.

Artisan tie and bow tie maker Nicholas Atgemis has been making face masks during the pandemic.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

At the start of the year, Mr Atgemis was in Italy having dinner with a professor who specialises in Leonardo Da Vinci. The professor told him Da Vinci had invented the napkin to halt the spread of disease by communal hand washing at the dining table.

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This gave Mr Atgemis the inspiration to switch to face masks, using the same high-quality loom-woven Italian silks he uses in his bow ties to make face masks that retail up to $210 in high-end jewellery shops in the eastern suburbs.

Mr Atgemis welcomed masks becoming mandatory "as long as it isn't done in a draconian way" and he hoped they would relax the constraints once case numbers started to decline.

He was in his workshop when the announcement came through and received a request for more samples from a local retailer almost immediately. However, he did not expect a sudden influx of orders.

"The truth is that most people are going to buy a $5 face mask at the 7eleven or when they're checking out getting petrol, they're not going to come and get a $165 or $210 face mask from a guy who specialises in the highest quality silk design," he said.

Mr Atgemis said he was not able to sell the masks for less given the cost of materials but he made his sewing pattern available for free online so anyone could run up their own masks with affordable fabric.

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