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Tampa Boutique Turns Fabric Scraps Into Masks After CDC Issues New Guidelines

Leigh Anne Balzekas and Kristine Ownley of the Disco Dolls in Seminole Heights started making masks out of fabric scraps after the CDC issued new COVID-19 protection guidelines.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Companies around the country are switching gears to help out during the COVID-19 pandemic. Breweries and cosmetic companies are making hand sanitizer. General Motors, Ford and Tesla are making ventilators.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that people wear cloth masks in public settings, the Disco Dolls in Seminole Heights knew how they could help.

They had to close their fashion boutique, hair salon and art gallery because the smaller space made it difficult to keep customers six feet apart.

The masks are made mostly of organic bamboo material.
Credit Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
The Florida Channel
The masks are made mostly of organic bamboo material.

But they had a storeroom stacked with fabric scraps left over from fashion products, a byproduct of being a zero waste sustainable business. So they turned them into masks they're selling at cost for $2 – or more if you can spare it.

“We’re doing sliding scale," said owner and designer Leigh Anne Balzekas. “That's kind of what our labor cost is because we are utilizing our scraps, we're not purchasing new material, and we want everyone to be able to afford however many masks they need for their family, their loved ones.”

The CDC recommends everyone wear cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are hard to maintain - like the grocery store.

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The cloth face coverings are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators.  The CDC says those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.

These masks won't do much to prevent someone from getting the coronavirus, but can help them from spreading it if they're infected and don't know it.

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“We're in this time where we're all scared,” Balzekas said. “So having something that's comforting, and know that you can actively do something, even if it's just to prevent you from touching your own face. For me, I can wear this and I know, ‘Okay, something's different. I'm not just grocery shopping on a normal day.’”

The Disco Dolls have made 600 masks so far and have taken orders for 1,000 more. You can contact them online to place an order and get a pick-up date and time. Balzekas and the two other co-owners - Kristine Ownley and Beth Emery - can make about 65 masks a day. 

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"I went with the pleated design because it seemed to be the easiest and the fastest to produce, but also the most versatile for different face types,” Balzekas said.

Most of their fashion products, including the masks, are made with organic bamboo jersey.

How to Wear a Cloth Face Covering – via the CDC:

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

The CDC also provides  instructions online for how to make two versions of the masks at home.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams also shared a video about how to make one.

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Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.
Daylina Miller
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.