BERRIEN SPRINGS — Keila Sanchez wanted to put her talents to good use.

The self-taught fash­ion designer, who makes hand-crafted scarves and other accessories for a liv­ing, found a way to do so by helping hospital workers re­main safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sanchez spent 24 hours on March 21 cutting and sewing material together to make 60 cotton face masks intended as a donation to Spectrum Health Lakeland doctors and nurses.

“I just decided that I was going to keep working until I couldn’t anymore,” Sanchez said. “God has given me this talent to sew and help the community. I saw the need for this.”

It all began on March 19, when a friend of Sanchez messaged her about possibly sewing together a few face masks. Her friend, who is a physi­cian, had heard some grum­blings in the medical com­munity about a shortage of masks. Then people started tagging Sanchez in several social media posts concern­ing homemade masks.

By March 20, Sanchez dove head first into the project by seeking out the proper mate­rial and doing her homework on making masks that would be acceptable under the stan­dards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Preven­tion.

“I decided to do a little re­search because they weren’t accepting every face mask,” Sanchez said. “There was a video I watched and played around with the pattern.”

The face masks are con­sidered reusable, made from premium cotton material. She used different types of elastic for the bands that could be washed and dried along with the rest of the face mask.

Sanchez also got creative on the look of the face masks.

Some have inspiring mes­sages on them, while most have patterns with every­thing from bright colors to animal prints to camouflage.

“I’ve been using tie dye a lot,” she said. “The ‘Wonder Woman’ one has been a fa­vorite for the nurses, who I would say are the superheroes on the front lines.”

The masks take an average of 25 minutes to make, from cutting the material to put­ting labels on.

Sanchez said it took an es­timated 16 hours for just the sewing. She started cutting on Friday night, March 20, and spent all of March 21 fashioning them from within her Berrien Springs home studio. On March 22, she wrapped them up and delivered them to area health care sites.

On Saturday, March 28, she reported via a video in Facebook that "this week 270-plus face masks have gone out into the community or other part of the U.S."

She noted that people in the community have helped by cutting face mask pieces or donating supplies.

In 2014, Sanchez found­ed KozySaila as a source of light during a time of family uncertainty.

She started sewing from home to cover her daughter Saila’s medical expenses. Saila was born with congen­ital heart disease, which led to five open-heart surgeries at a young age.

Thankfully, these life-sav­ing surgeries were a success and Saila will turn 6 years old next month. That led to the slogan of Sanchez’s business: “Wear­able Art to Save a Heart.”

Sanchez’s business fea­tures a collection of acces­sories, designed with a mix of fabrics including velvet, leather and cashmere.

In 2019, she showcased her first designer collection for Paris Fashion Week and con­tinues to grow her business from Southwest Michigan.

Now her phone continues to ring, but for another rea­son.

Sanchez said everyone she knows wants a face mask as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout Michigan and the nation. She has not added them to her business’s website, as it is not a normal item she makes.

“The response has been ongoing. It doesn’t stop,” she said. “I did not expect this to take off the way it did. Some people have been ask­ing to buy some. I’m going to take it one face mask at a time.”

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