ready and resourceful

Designers and entrepreneurs fashion face masks for medical professionals in Houston

A few local designers have pivoted to create face masks for local health care workers. Photo courtesy of Magpies & Peacocks

The coronavirus is sweeping the globe and creating new challenges. Notably, companies are not able to keep up with the demand for the N95 masks needed to keep the health care workers safe. Now, Houston's fashion industry is stepping up.

Megan Eddings, founder of Accel Lifestyle, says an article she read about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advising health care professionals to wear homemade masks or bandanas due to the shortage of the N95 masks inspired her. She was compelled to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic locally and nationwide.

"Accel's Prema fabric was created to prevent the growth of bacteria," Eddings tells CultureMap. "The fabric can be washed up to 100 times and it will still be 99.99-percent anti-bacteria."

Eddings says it dawned on her that she has over 500 shirts made, here in Houston, that could easily be recreated into masks. Her supply chain team consists of 20 sewers and she notes that number can quickly double.

"We have enough supplies here to make 9,000 masks and I have 2,800 yards of fabric sitting at my factory in California," she says. "That's enough fabric to make more than 100,000 masks."

Eddings and her team also tell CultureMap that 47,000 yards of elastic is en route to the Bayou City this week.

"I knew this was serious when the president of MD Anderson responded to my Saturday morning email within three minutes of sending," she says. "He's interested, and they want the infection control team to analyze the fabric."

Other local hospitals interested in Accel Lifestyle's masks are Methodist, Texas Children's, Baylor, and Memorial Hermann. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City has also shown interest as well as Yale's New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut.

Accel's masks are made out of their specialty anti-bacteria fabric. Photo courtesy of Accel

When Chloe Dao made the decision to temporarily close her Rice Village boutique last Tuesday, offering shopping requests by appointment only, she posted a video to her Instagram account the following day about the emotional roller coaster she's been on surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the video, Dao says she wanted to play a role in helping her community by creating a pattern and hand sewing 100 washable face masks with pockets. She noted in the caption that the pocket allows for extra filtration but that because it's a fabric mask, it does not stop the spread of the virus. Dao also recommends washing the mask before wearing it.

With production underway since her initial 100 masks, available in small/medium and medium/large, Dao and her team have produced close to 1,000 masks for Houstonians who reached out via social media.

"The requests are overwhelming," a representative for the label tells CultureMap. "We're now shifting our focus to help those on the front line of the coronavirus outbreak; the doctors, nurses, family members of doctors and nurses."

For those who would like to donate to Dao's efforts to continue producing these washable masks, click here.

Houston-based, internationally recognized nonprofit design house, Magpies & Peacocks, and Inclán Studio, a local women's ready-to-wear fashion label, are upcycling together to create nonwoven polypropylene masks, which will be distributed to Houston-area hospitals.

Founder and CEO, Sarah-Jayne Smith and vice president and director of communications/PR, Ahshia Berry, tells CultureMap that partnering together was never a question for either of our brands but more "how can we pull our resources together and help during these trying times."

Clarence Lee, a designer at Inclán Studio, tells CultureMap he searched the studio to find elastic cording that didn't get used in past collections.

"Waste as a resource and upcycling material for good use has never been more important than it is right now," Magpies & Peacocks writes on an Instagram post.

Houston Arts Alliance and Visit Houston donated excess promotional products and now, are deconstructed to reuse the material for these masks.

"It's actually a spun plastic, not a fabric, so it works effectively as a filter, and is more moisture resistant," Magpies & Peacocks tells CultureMap. "It's more compliant and efficient for the current exposure to the service industry in the midst of the crisis."

Lee, who is also a lead designer for Magpies & Peacocks, and serves as an executive board member for the nation's exclusive nonprofit design house, tells CultureMap that for them, it simply boils down to help in any capacity, especially after seeing what's happening across the country with the shortage of supplies.

He notes that they may not have all the supplies, but they do have the capability and time to sew to help those that are on the frontline, fighting and sacrificing everything they have.

"[Houston] is our home, and we all have a part to play in helping fight this," he says. "The [fashion] industry has a major role, and now is definitely the time to show how valuable it can be."

Magpies & Peacocks and Inclán Studio aim to produce 500-600 masks, and hopefully more, should they come across more materials, Lee tells CultureMap. Seven volunteers are helping to sew these nonwoven polypropylene masks.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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