Beverly native Angela Luna was on the fast track to fashion-world celebrity when she began to rethink her choices. Preparing to graduate in 2016 from New York’s Parsons School of Design, she designed a senior thesis collection of dual-function clothing to donate to refugee camps. Each garment could convert into practical gear for the displaced — tents, sleeping backs, baby harnesses.
For her work, she was named Parsons’ Womenswear Designer of the Year. Prompted by her concern about the Syrian refugee crisis, the products behind Luna’s socially conscious brand, ADIFF, were years in the making. Now, she’s had about a week to bring her latest innovation to market, from conception to delivery: Luna and her small team of refugee tailors — Afghan immigrants based in Greece — have just produced their first batch of emergency masks in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Luna, who is based in Brooklyn, has a business partner in Jordan. They employ three refugee tailors — one of whom is “the most talented sewer I‘ve ever met in my entire life,” Luna says — who support their families on their wages.
When orders for the company’s core products, including backpacks and tote bags made from recycled materials, stopped coming in due to the virus outbreak a few weeks ago, Luna and her colleagues began brainstorming ways to keep the men employed. An intern suggested masks. The first shipment (on adiff.com), which is already sold out, arrived earlier this week.
The ADIFF team in Athens will be able to produce 60-70 masks per day for as long as necessary, Luna says, and she’ll hire more tailors if needed. The masks, made of two layers of surplus T-shirt cotton, should not be used in place of surgical N95 respirators, Luna says. But in times of extreme shortages, they are an alternative to wearing a scarf or a turtleneck over your nose.
“They’re a precaution for not touching your nose or your face,” she says, speaking from her apartment, where she and her roommates have been in voluntary self-isolation for nearly two weeks. Her company is selling the masks, which are washable, at cost ($15), and she hopes to begin donating as many as she can to the medical community as soon as possible.
She says she has contacted the office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “[Designer] Christian Siriano has been able to partner with Cuomo for hospitals,” she says. “That’s something we’d absolutely love to do.”
Her goals, she says, are to keep her team employed and do whatever she can to help the doctors and nurses fighting the virus.