With many states requiring face masks to be worn in businesses and other public areas, it’s no surprise that masks are now fashion statements, available in all colors, patterns, sizes and price points. In my opinion, spending $200 on a face mask that comes with bows and braided hair extensions seems a bit unnecessary, especially when you can make one in five minutes with materials you already have at home. Thanks to Becky Shander’s ingenuity and generosity, many vulnerable populations around the world are doing this — and now, you can, too.
Shander, from Hopkinton, MA, created her design to address the challenges of finding materials for do-it-yourself masks (remember the elastic shortage?). Her design, explained in the brief video below, requires only a cotton T-shirt and scissors. No sewing, tape, elastic or rubber bands needed. A large men’s T-shirt will make up to four double-layered masks or eight single-layered masks, in either child or adult sizes, depending on the size of your template.
As an immigrant from Thailand who grew up in the United States, Shander is cognizant of the anti-Asian sentiment that has ignited during the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as racial inequities that have been highlighted throughout the pandemic. It became clear to Shander that people of color, specifically those in low-income households who still had to physically go to work, were most vulnerable. This reality inspired Shander to provide a DIY option that’s easy to make, virtually free, machine-washable, comfortable and effective.
“Every day I would watch and listen to the news, which would inform me where the virus was hitting the hardest,” Shander said. “And, oftentimes, those populations, especially overseas, did not have the right tools to protect themselves. Some people don’t have reliable access to clean water, so even washing hands isn’t so easy. Wearing a mask seemed to be especially important for them.”
Shander also recognized the value of making a mask that was environmentally sustainable. With millions of masks being produced and discarded, Shander wanted her design to have a low environmental impact by using pre-existing material and not requiring plastic.
To ensure that her design reached people most in need, she connected with people and organizations already providing aid to those populations — and continues to do so on an almost daily basis. Shander has also made hundreds of masks and donated them to an organization to distribute where most needed.
Now, this mask design is helping veterans, cancer and hospice patients, pediatric patients, asthma and allergy sufferers, refugees, immigrants, food supply workers, people who are homeless, and prison advocacy and equal justice groups, all thanks to Shander’s persistence in sharing her design with the world. Through her husband’s connection to a foundation that builds hospitals in Haiti, the design was translated into Haitian Creole and is being used by the foundation’s grantees working in Haiti.
“Unfortunately, this virus isn’t going away anytime soon, so we’ll all still need some type of mask protection,” Shander said. “I am doing my part by offering a mask option that considers all populations worldwide, hoping to protect everyone regardless of race, income or social standing.”