From Socks to Reusable Face Masks: A Portland Business Pivots in the Wake of COVID-19

For each mask sold, Portland company Sock It to Me will donate one mask to a Meals on Wheels People volunteer.

While Portland looks at the first stages of reopening, some businesses have decided to adapt, rather than look backward. Sock It to Me, a Portland company that went from selling quirky socks at the Portland Saturday Market to an international novelty accessories brand, identified a problem in the community and found its own way to lend a hand. In late April, suppliers and designers got to work creating effective, reusable masks that wouldn't be a nuisance to wear.

As it turns out, mask-making isn't an easy feat. The company's design director, Alicia Reese, developed multiple concepts of the masks, fine-tuning the design until it was perfect. The stitching had to be reworked so that the final product could be worn again and again with ease. The straps had to be fully adjustable with toggles to make it available in two sizes; standard/adult and small/youth. And, as per the company's ethos, the designs had to be just as bold and playful as the rest of the color-forward catalog.

Of course, safety is king. The masks are meant for everyday use, rather than for medical personnel, but they are designed to be as effective as possible in these viral times. While most of the masks you see on the street are made of a simple cotton material, Sock It to Me developed dual-layered knit masks with copper fibers that naturally inhibit the growth of pathogens. Basically, you're looking at a mask made of cotton, polyester, copper ion-bonded nylon and rubber elastic––high-tech materials that are up to the task. When tested in an external lab, the masks were found to be 99% effective at inhibiting the growth of pathogens.

For Sock It to Me, the new mask initiative is about helping those who are most vulnerable in these strange, scary times. This is the creative spirit that brings a community like Portland together––businesses supporting people, people supporting businesses and humans coming together in circumstances that quite literally draw them apart.

Early on in the crisis, Sock It to Me worked to donate pairs of socks to those at the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic through its #COVIDSOCK drive. Now, Sock It to Me is dedicated to ensuring the safety of the good Samaritans working with the Meals on Wheels program. For every mask pre-ordered or purchased through the Sock It to Me website, the company will donate one matching mask to the volunteer drivers at Meals on Wheels People.

While the pandemic has altered life for everyone, its effects are not spread equally throughout the population, with seniors especially vulnerable to serious illness. Meals on Wheels People works to combat the social isolation that is all too common among seniors, providing social support and nutritious food to older communities throughout the country. These efforts rely on volunteer drivers, and those drivers rely on masks to keep themselves and the populations they serve safe.

Since the early days of COVID-19, daily meal production at Meals on Wheels has increased from 5,000 meals daily to almost 8,000 meals daily. Those who volunteer for the program now only deliver one day per week, down from the usual five, creating high demand in just a handful of hours. With the help of Sock It to Me, these essential volunteers can serve with the ease of a breathable, lab-tested mask.

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