Seemingly overnight, America faced a shortage on surgical masks. Requests for handmade masks skyrocketed, and surprisingly, so did the demand for other American-made products.

From March through April, my team and I made over 5,000 masks for healthcare and other essential workers. While we're still sewing masks and filling orders, I've noticed a few common mindset shifts among Americans that I wanted to share, as well as how I've moved through this month.

Over five thousand masks ago, I was organizing resources, patterns, tutorials, and donation locations for these masks. I had no idea what lay ahead. I definitely didn't see the wave coming - in fact, I remember looking at my boyfriend and telling him this mask craze would blow over in a few weeks.

It definitely didn't.

It definitely didn't.

I think as Americans, we've grown to expect convenience at a fraction of the actual cost. Then enters COVID-19, and suddenly, convenience ceased to exist for a sec. You couldn't find toilet paper anywhere, Amazon Prime took 2 weeks, and if you owned a face mask you were considered among the elite. Suddenly,  Americans were happy to pay a premium for conveniences.

While the circumstances could've been better, as an American manufacturer, I was hitting my table and battle-crying "DANG STRAIGHT, IT'S ABOUT TIME we got some respect!"

If you're selling masks during a pandemic, people are happy to pay American-made prices than they would have pre-COVID.  Before COVID-19, they took that mask for granted because it was fast and cheap, and there wasn't a shortage. We often compare the speed at which we can get things to Amazon, but when all of this went down, Amazon couldn't get ahold of basic goods either, and consumers defaulted back to shopping local. Now folks would rather access something localized rather than pay a major company that will turn around and pay someone else who will hopefully deliver a box of masks in bulk to them. And when they don't, no one in the supply chain has any answers as to why.

Access is convenient - you can call me on a Saturday morning, and I can put a mask out on my front step by Monday afternoon for you to pick up. COVID changed everything about handmade products, because you now trust whichever supply chain is shorter. Up until now, Prime was a better option than buying through me. It took a pandemic happening for Americans to realize that Amazon, Costco, Sam's, etc... isn't actually in control of the product.

Who knows - it's fascinating to watch though. I think we're re-establishing respect for American-made products - and I don't think that stops at handmade. I also don't think COVID has changed anyone whatsoever - it's only exposed corporate interests, the quality of their company culture, priorities, and oversights.

In contrast, nearly every die-hard entrepreneur I know has been thriving... because real entrepreneurs love the dirt. They thrive on getting their hands dirty and getting bloody in the fight for growth. They can shift from peace-time leadership to war-time general in an instant, and they went on the offense with their innovation the moment corporations stepped back to lick their wounds.

What we're seeing right now is a once-in-a-lifetime land-grab - a chance for the little guy to break off a chunk of the customer-base that was let down by major companies, and win them over for good. The massive upside, is that people vote with their dollars, but what comes next is up to the seller. 

If convenience is all you offer - then the moment COVID ends.. the moment supply chains return to normal... you're destined to lose the acquisition opportunities. Which means, as a maker, you have to bring more to the table than convenience. Small businesses and makers who aren't building brands that serve their audiences in other ways won't have a leg to stand on if their product isn't one of a kind and awe-inspiring - much less, if it's not a commodity (the nice-to-have item only applies to comforts in times like these, whereas the commodities might go through phases of being less popular, but they'll never go away). My guess is that the small businesses that serve their audiences hard (and find ways to solve problems and comfort them through the safe-at-home/shelter-in-place ordinances) will win over those customers for good because it's a traumatic event. For those who merely shut down and took a step back, they'll have a hard time resonating because customers need brands to feel human in order to know, like, and trust them. By humanizing your brand as much as possible, you increase its value and create space for your customers to connect and go, "me too." You're bound to have your own way that you experienced COVID-19... why would you deny your customers the space to experience it and get through it together?

As a business owner, I've come to find this whole experience to be enlightening, and while you can't teach someone how to think like an entrepreneur and birth ideas from nothing, you can begin by asking yourself the right questions. It started with a bit of humble pie and a practical step back, but then I asked myself three:

so what happens next?




does it actually solve a problem for my customers?

Is it inclusive?

Is it fundamentally innovative and legacy-inspired?

This is how I've been reading my compass this past month. As a service-based business, I've had to pivot and figure out ways to bring revenue without taking a single fitting or sewing anything for live entertainment. These questions help me suss out my new ideas for fortifying my brand in all of this. They help me approach solving new problems for customers, and we always have to remember that the more problems you solve, the more success you'll have.

With the right attitude and innovation, we have a beautiful opportunity to reframe what American-made means... the question is, are you willing to get your hands dirty?

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