The Designers of The RealReal x Fashion Girls For Humanity Mask Sale Speak On Inspiration and Community


Outside the window of fashion world vet Julie Gilhart’s New York home is a hospital. One day she noticed a refrigerator truck looming outside the ER and her heart sank. The realities of the pandemic were hitting closer to home than she could have imagined. Curious as to how she could help, the former Barneys New York fashion director decided to lean on the industry she knows best. She rallied the members of Fashion Girls For Humanity, the charitable nonprofit organization she founded with Kikka Hanazawa, Miki Higasa, and Tomoko Ogura in the wake of the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. The team reached out to a community of designers to contribute reusable masks to a public sale on The RealReal. All of TRR’s proceeds would then be donated to Gowns For Good Made in America’s initiative to get PPE to frontline workers. 

Supporting small businesses within the fashion and garment industries that have seen massive upheaval since quarantine went into effect, the initiative strives to keep businesses intact, frontline workers protected, and a wider community equipped with masks to practice safer social distancing. Gilhart said, “We wanted to help not just our beloved city but others that had been hit hard. The unfortunate thing about this crisis is that it’s impacting the entire world. We saw an opportunity to help bring people together through our online platform.” Designers like Hillary Taymour of Collina Strada, Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin and Marcia Patmos of M.Patmos answered the call.

Masks, after all, are becoming the new normal. Ever since wearing masks in public has become mandated by many state governments and businesses, there has been a dash to find masks that speak to our taste and our ethics. Luckily, this sale has plenty of both.

Here, Gilhart and the community of designers she pulled from discuss how they’ve been coping, the stories behind their masks, and how fashion can help during these difficult times.


Julie Gilhart
Chief Development Officer, Tomorrow Consulting
& Co-Founder of Fashion Girls of Humanity 


How Fashion Can Fight Back Against COVID-19
“When a disaster hits I believe everyone should try to lend a helping hand if they can–however big or small. Something that has been a big issue is the shortages of PPE for frontline and healthcare workers. The impact that small factories, brands, and groups of dedicated individuals has made by putting their efforts into sewing and donating masks, gowns and other PPE has been truly phenomenal. I’m proud of the fashion industry for kicking in and trying to make a difference.”


How Julie Is Coping
“I’m truly concentrating on having a lot of hope for the situation. It’s a challenging time so it requires a lot of faith. I find riding my bike feels freeing and I’m trying to watch the sunset wherever I can. Staying focused on work and the team I’m with, as well as constantly thinking about how we can improve this situation for the people in our communities and industry. At the very least, small acts of kindness are good for everyone and just taking one day at a time.”


And Ways She Stays Connected To Community
“Supporting small businesses is important – whether it be ordering food from local bakeries, restaurants or grocery stores. Doing whatever we can to support and appreciate the many essential workers, many of whom went ignored before is important. And of course, wearing a mask and staying inside as much as possible is still a significant way to help keep those around us safe.”


Marcia Patmos
Brooklyn, NY


The Inspiration Behind Marcia’s Mask
“It is a zero waste washable knit mask based on the shape of the N95 masks, but more comfortable. There is a filter slit in the bottom and a removable clip at the bridge of the nose. High power Lycra is knit into the ear-loops so the mask is adjustable for most adult face shapes.”


How She’s Staying Connected To Her Community
“Via social media like Instagram, newsletters, text. I’m trying to keep people inspired with music, recipes, etc., and even given them a little company. A lot of people are lonely and stressed right now, so even a phone chat can to get a credit card number turns into a mutually caring conversation.”


Hillary Taymour, of Collina Strada
Chinatown, New York


The Inspiration Behind Collina Strada’s Mask
“Anything we can do to help was why we answered the call of Julie and team. This is a standard mask with some of our Deadstock prints. We are just making masks and staying positive, and coming out with a quarantine collection soon.”


Albertus Quartus Swanepoel
New York City


How Albertus and His Business Are Coping
“I must be honest, it is pretty hard. I have a really small business and have lost most of my wholesale accounts. Private clients and others projects are on hold for the foreseeable future. My hope and belief is that there will be a new appreciation and resurfaced respect for craft after this which enables all of us to move forward. I will have to diversify into other categories as well.” 

The Inspiration Behind The Mask
“I am always and continuously inspired by South Africa and the continent, so using fabrics from there is a natural decision for me. I’m more of a maximalist, so I just love the mix of colors and patterns used in their designs.” 

How He Stays Connected To His Fashion Community
“I talk regularly to other hat makers, either to commissarate or get motivated about our current situation and how we will move forward. Designer hats have always been a niche business, the question is how to stay relevant.” 


Chrys Wong
Highland Park, Los Angeles


Why Chrys Got Involved With Fashion Girls For Humanity
“I admire how Fashion Girls for Humanity is promoting action by example and by sharing vital information and knowledge. The message is so selfless and humble. Getting PPE to hospitals is something I had been working on as well. But there is a  limit to what I can do by myself. So I am happy to have this opportunity to collaborate with a great organization and some very talented people  behind it!” 


The Inspiration Behind His Masks
“The shape of the mask was derived from a Harley Davidson face shield that I once saw at a vintage store. The mask covers the nose and wraps under the chin so there is less opportunity to touch your face. Each fabric series tells a story. The American denim series are masks made from cotton grown in the US, manufactured in Missouri, and sewn in California. The linings are 100% organic. This is an American movement to respond to COVID-19, so I would like to keep as many Americans employed as possible in the process.” 


Karla Colletto of Karla Colletto
Vienna, Virginia


How Karla And Her Business Are Coping
“We’ve been making medical masks and non-surgical face masks  for teachers, nursing homes, local businesses, and the community in order to keep our workforce employed and to help our community. We are developing PPE products, specifically masks to be sold on our webstore. We had always planned to launch e-commerce but in the wake of the destabilized retail market, we have decided to launch sooner. Our goal is to be up and running the week of June 1st.”


Why Karla Got Involved With Fashion Girls For Humanity
“We work with Miki Higasa at Kaleidoscope and when she presented the idea to us we were honored and excited to be a part of Fashion Girls For Humanity’s initiative to help front-line medical workers.”


Greg Lauren
Los Angeles, CA


How Greg Is Staying In Touch With His Community
“During the first week of the shutdown the focus was on finding a solution to the shortage of medical grade masks. Being true to the L.A. creative spirit we literally started making masks with deconstructed, store-bought air conditioning filters and inserting them in between the fabrics to replicate the N-95. It put us in touch with medical centers at Cedars Sinai and UCLA, and it felt great to connect with those on the frontlines. While at home, I returned to my roots, and started drawing on our garments, and we created the Journal Capsule, which we auctioned off, benefitting The America’s Food Fund. As a family, we are bringing our son to pick and curate food and clothes for two families in need of essentials, and it’s been amazing to see how one’s child can really embrace the situation and rise.”


The Inspiration Behind His Masks
“Honestly, the first versions of a mask have really been about function, speed, and sustainability. We looked at what scraps and dead stock fabrics we had, and started making a simple mask, that would be easy to produce, cost effective, and just happened to use elements we love, army twill, soft faded flannels, and indigo prints–all classic fabrics from the GL world! And of course we needed a signature “50/50” Mask–half chambray, half army twill–from deadstock army bags!”


Monica Paolini & Sean Monahan
New York, New York


How Monica And Sean Are Coping
“We’re keeping as productive and positive as possible–cutting and sewing masks with leftover fabric and designing new collections. Each day is about problem solving, moving production around, finding alternative fabric solutions and working with our distribution partners to rearrange deliveries. We are still receiving phone calls every day from people who are browsing the Sea site. Whether it’s about a return or a potential sale it reminds us that there are customers out there and keeps us hopeful and motivated!”


The Inspiration Behind Their Masks
“We used one of our leftover fabrics from the Pre-Spring 20 collection. Our sample maker Joanne (who has been making clothes for Sea for almost 10 years) is sewing all of the masks from her home in Brooklyn.”


Natalie Chanin, Alabama Chanin
Florence, Alabama


How Natalie Is Coping
“In the first weeks of the COVID-19 breakout, Alabama Chanin began individual lay-offs for what we believed to be an unknown period of time. We’d already begun to make masks but it was just such a period of uncertainty. Within a week of launching the masks online, we were able to not only bring back our entire team but add additional team members from our community to the production and distribution of PPEs. 

As demand continued to grow, we realized that there was a profound need for masks across the nation, not only for individuals but for institutions and health-care providers in a range of positions. Because of the number of orders we’ve received and our daily production capacity at The Factory, we quickly partnered with two multi-generation family businesses that have committed to keeping manufacturing alive in the USA. Across our entire supply chain, our partners had a similar experience as Alabama Chanin, facing the unknown and potential layoffs. We are extremely grateful for our entire supply chain and to be able to support like-minded, family-owned businesses, and our own community in the midst of this crisis.”


The Inspiration Behind Their Masks
“I wanted to tell the full story of how we design and manufacture at The Factory with these masks.  Many of our collection garments are hand painted in-house, and we were inspired by that process  when conceptualizing this new design. The Free Form mask utilizes the painted backdrops from our design studio’s stenciling department and features multi-layers of our hand-painted stencil designs.The Alabama Chanin mask gives our custom printed fabric a new life. The custom printed fabric can normally be found at the nape of our handsewn collection pieces and includes the garment’s details. Once a garment is completed, the tag is signed by the artisan who created the garment.”


Honoring heritage brands and extending the lifecycle of luxury items.