My friends tell me it's important to start this story with who I am. So here it goes.
I have been, literally, all over the place. Born and raised in Boston, I moved across the country to study at Stanford, before moving across the world to Dubai. There, I worked for McKinsey where I discovered alas, management consulting was not my passion. Startups, however, piqued my interest. I've since worked at startups in Dubai, Mauritius, and here in New York. Most recently, I was Director of Product Marketing at Moved.
Until the pandemic hit. Like so many other tech workers, I was laid off. Luckily, I had a generous severance and time to reflect on what to do next. I'm saddened that too many others do not have this fortune.
Around this time, home sewers were answering the call to make fabric masks for frontline workers. In 7 states, it was now mandatory to wear a face covering in public.
Inspired to do something, I decided to learn how to make a mask. My mother had taught me how to use a sewing machine when I was younger, so how hard could this be?
I asked a friend who had left New York City if I could borrow his machine. In the first sign that I was perhaps out of my depth, it took me an hour to haul the 20lb bag across Manhattan to my walkup apartment.
It turns out, I had forgotten a thing or 2 in the 20 years I hadn't touched a sewing machine. My first mask took 3 hours. My boyfriend said it looked "wonky but OK." Which meant it was pretty terrible.
Instead, I decided to do some math. Elite home sewers were peaking at 40 masks per day. That meant I could produce a maximum or 1,200 masks over a month, assuming that I also sewed all weekend.
Or, I could do what I do for a living, which is design products and scale them.
I reached out to sewing factories here in New York. In pre-COVID times, these studios produced collections for New York Fashion Week. Now, they were facing a cliff of order cancellations that would result in layoffs and furloughs. They wanted to pivot to face masks, but they needed cash flow to keep paying their staff.
Initially, I wanted to make quarantine fashion (tie-dye anyone?) But as I did more research, I realized that masks varied significantly in performance based on construction. I couldn't live with myself if we sacrificed safety for vanity. So I focused on technical fabrics.
That's how Nam & Ko got started. Behind each mask is a team of fabric suppliers, pattern designers, fabric cutters, seamstresses, and delivery workers. One month after making what might have been the ugliest face mask in history, I cleared the first shipment.
If you have expertise and want to help, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to us at 322 Second Ave, #3, New York NY, 10003.
In the meantime, stay safe and be well.