Fabric store

Mask makers fuel sales surge at Winnipeg fabric store

It’s been an unpredictable toss-up: The COVID-19 pandemic has hit some industries so hard that some companies have been pulled.

Other companies – like Winnipeg’s Marshall Fabrics – have seen their sales and requests for services increase dramatically as a direct result of the impact of the coronavirus.

Historically, summer at Marshall Fabrics has seen a 30% drop in sales, said Beth Syrnyk, director of retail sales. Manitobans are busy barbecuing, lazing by the lake, and traveling, so tying the ends of sewing projects is cut.

But this summer, sales doubled at Marshall, due to the explosive need for masks and mask-making equipment.

“It’s crazy since we reopened our doors to the public on May 5,” Syrnyk said. “There are queues all day inside and outside the store.”

On a Friday afternoon in August, the store was bustling with shoppers pushing carts down the aisles, choosing from the huge selection of just about every possible print, solid and licensed designs ever popular. Twelve people were lined up outside waiting to enter.

For Marshall, cotton is the No. 1 mask-making material in demand because of its comfort and breathability, Syrnyk said.

“I would say that probably 60 to 70% of our customers are making masks right now. It’s all about cotton. They buy cotton, they buy rubber bands. We just got 42 rolls of rubber bands today and we are already selling three today, ”said Syrnyk.

Beth Syrnyk, Retail Manager for Marshall Fabrics in Winnipeg, presents one of the many stores. (Orinthia Babb / CBC)

And rightly so, Marshall was one of the first retailers to enforce the wearing of masks in their stores. The store manager explained that there is now a lot more communication between staff and customers, so masks are needed to insert a layer of security between people.

Customers are also required to take a cart with them as a measure of social distancing and to track the number of stores.

“Most of the time, we do a lot of teaching. We explain to them, “It’s the kind of elastic you use, it’s cotton, it’s polyester, you can’t use that, you can use it,” Syrnyk said.

Mask makers fuel surge in fabric store sales

Historically, the summer at Marshall Fabrics in Winnipeg has seen a 30 percent drop in sales. But this summer, sales have doubled as customers flock to purchase mask-making equipment. 1:43

Young aspiring entrepreneur through COVID-19 with a mask business

Masks have become a fashion statement. People are looking for a wide variety of – well, everything, said Syrnyk. And Marshall strives to stock bolts of whatever they are looking for.

“We have about 15,000 different prints of cotton in our store. And it depends on who it is,” Syrnyk said. “They’re looking for a lot of licensed prints. Harry Potter – God forbid. Anything that contains Baby Yoda. We got a dose of Baby Yoda at four in the afternoon, at 9 o’clock the next morning, there were no more. “

13-year-old Sass’ n Mask entrepreneur Zoe Kirshner stands with her fresh-cut cotton prints for her mask-making business with her mother, Marly Spivak. (Orinthia Babb / CBC)

With the recommendation of masks by public health officials and masks being mandatory for some elementary school students, even young entrepreneurs have weathered the pandemic.

Thirteen-year-old Zoe Kirshner started her mask-making business called Sass’ n Mask this summer.

“I’ve always wanted to start a business but never really had an idea. But one day I went to the fabric store and wanted to make a pet bandana for my own dog, and that’s kind of how it started, ”Kirshner said.

“She’s had requests from teachers who are getting ready to go back to class and are actually buying masks for their students that they think the kids will like,” said Marly Spivak, Zoe’s mother.

Fat quarters a money maker

Many buyers had chunky quarters in their carts – precut quarter-yard pieces of various cotton prints normally used for quilting measuring 18 inches by 24 inches (approximately 46 centimeters by 61 centimeters).

Kyla Henry, a member of the Notions department staff, said large quarters have become the go-to solution for making masks in the store.

Customers line up in front of Marshall Fabrics at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. (Orinthia Babb / CBC)

“Before COVID, I swear we had boxes and bags full of these neighborhoods.… Since COVID, we’ve found that we were selling maybe well over 100 a day,” Henry said. “You can probably get about three masks in a quarter.”

To keep the grease trap replenished, a staff member must now cut regular cuts of quilt fabric throughout the day. To meet the demand for rubber bands, a team of notions must cut sections of rubber bands 25 meters long throughout the day.

With the return to school and the possibility of a mask tenure on the horizon, masks could be the staple of fall fashion predictions.