April 20, 2020 at 7:51 pm EDT | by Yariel Valdés González
Miami fashion designer makes masks to fight coronavirus
Alberto Ravelo (Photo courtesy of Alberto Ravelo)

Editor’s note: The Washington Blade published a Spanish version of this story on April 17.

MIAMI — Given the growing demand for masks due to the current coronavirus pandemic, the Cuban-born fashion designer Alberto Ravelo decided to do his part by making this vital garment, but with attractive and unique designs.

“I was motivated to make them because of the social responsibility that we have to stop this crisis, because of the shortage of masks that currently exist and to educate society on how to protect themselves with the resources that we have at our disposal,” Ravelo told the Blade in an exclusive interview.

It is the first time the designer, who lives in Miami, launched a collection like this. He has created several patterns in different styles; some more complicated and others simpler, but he says all of the masks are equally effective.

“I make the masks at home with materials that certain people have donated to me, like sheets, t-shirts and cloth,” he says. “The donations arrive washed and I hygienically handle them at home on clean surfaces and I am constantly washing my hands, but I recommend that people who receive them wash them before wearing them.”

It is precisely the cloth masks, made from things found at home or made at home from common materials that are inexpensive to buy that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended to stop the virus’ spread.

Surgical masks and N-95 masks that many people use are critical supplies that should continue to be reserved for health care workers and other emergency response medical staff as the CDC recommends.

Ravelo uses polyester and cotton and other synthetic and natural fabrics in his production.

“The ones that I am making are with a pocket to be able to add a filter that can be different materials,” he says. “A filter is required to make the masks more effective, even though the fabric is double-layered. I am also using more elegant cloths to make them more beautiful and to make them into a fashionable item. I have created a design where everyone can draw or put a message they want (onto the masks), converting them into a medium of social expression.”

Ravelo initially began this project to help A Zero Waste Culture, a non-profit organization that supports the fight against climate change. A Zero Waste Culture plans to donate the masks.

The designer will also receive orders through his Facebook and Instagram accounts. Customers can choose their design and materials.

According to Ravelo, his masks try to “educate, raise awareness and please. The prices are modest and (I won’t profit from them.) These are difficult times and anything that can help us feel better will make them more enjoyable.”

Ravelo has 18 years of experience in the fashion industry as a creative designer and pattern maker.

He has also worked in clothing manufacturing and in printed textile and graphic design, embroidery and other techniques. Ravelo is a designer for Fashionate, a women’s clothing company in New Delhi and for Caravana, an artisanal lifestyle brand that preserves ancient Mexican artisan techniques.

He collaborates with the Miami brand Ramona La Rue as a design assistant. Ravelo has been an adjunct professor at the Miami Fashion Institute at Miami Dade College since 2016.

He currently works independently.

Profiting from tragedy

Many fashion brands like Off-White, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Futurewear, Fendi and Antisocial Club has been strongly criticized for attempting to profit from this global health crisis by selling masks at exorbitant prices. Despite this, their websites do not have available examples (of these masks.)

Off-White, which is currently the most influential urban fashion brand, sells a variety of masks — including those with the word “mask” on them and others with their logo in big letters — for 70 euros. The San Francisco-based designer Danielle Baskin is selling a personalized mask with a printed photograph of the part of the face covered by it for $40.

Louis Vuitton is selling a mask with the French company’s logo in the center and a monogram design, for $85. Fendi has put masks with its logo on sale for around 200 euros.

On the other hand, Ellen DeGeneres is selling a mask on her virtual store that is decorated with her famous phrase “Be Kind” for a much more reasonable price: $10. All profits will be donated to America’s Food Fund.

Madonna, Justin Bieber, Rosalía and Bad Bunny are among the many celebrities who, for many years, have incorporated face coverings into their wardrobes. Billie Eilish, one of the first singers who became concerned over the spread of the coronavirus, is the most recent celebrity to embrace this trend.

The new U.S. artist wore a Gucci mask on the red carpet of this year’s Grammy Awards, which increased the demand for face coverings 42 percent in 24 hours.  

Gucci is the largest fashion house that has included on its runways models with all types of face coverings, from ski masks to masks with a hole for the mouth as it could be seen in the 2018-2019 Fall-Winter collection.

According to Lyst, an online fashion platform, the search for designer protective mouth coverings has increased 147 percent since January. Off-White by Virgel Abjoh saw a 334 percent increase in mask searches. A Bathing Ape saw a 167 percent increase, Nike a 60 percent increase, Louis Vuitton a 24 percent increase and Marcelo Burlon a 10 percent increase.

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