Designer defends $75, $100 cloth masks after backlash

Sarah Jane Waddell pictured in the Matrix signature mask design. Photo via -
Sarah Jane Waddell pictured in the Matrix signature mask design. Photo via -

A local designer is now facing backlash on social media because of the prices of her face masks.

Although the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) says there is no “scientific evidence” cloth masks can reduce the spread of covid19, the Health Ministry has been urging people to wear these washable and reusable masks while in public.

Designer and model Sarah Jane Waddell recently launched the Maskulture project. With each purchase, another mask goes to a person in need. But many have since taken issue with the cost.

The project’s website shows two categories of cotton-based masks: comfort masks, which cost $75 each, and signature masks costing $100. Delivery adds an extra $25 to the bill.

In an Instagram post on April 3,Waddell said, “Two weeks ago, I walked into Courts and picked up a sewing machine with no clue how to sew. I had decided quarantine would be the time to learn and that YouTube would be my teacher.

"As you can imagine, it’s been lots of mistakes and foibles, in fact, I almost broke the machine at one point.

"True story. The guy who fixed it actually called to ask me, ‘What on earth did you even do to this machine?'"

She added that while she is neither a scientist nor a global leader, she is trying to make a difference.

“Let us put TT on the path to freezing this horrific virus in its tracks by getting everyone in TT to start wearing masks.”

But on Tuesday, several Instagram, Facebook and Twitter users began to express their dissatisfaction with the prices, with many calling it exploitation.

One user said, “There is literally a pandemic, people are absolutely struggling and yet she’s managed to turn this into a fashion statement over health and safety. There are businesses with much less doing so much more and distributing masks for free out of compassion and concern for the public.”

Another said, “This is someone who has taken advantage of a global pandemic and fear from the public and turned it into a personal profit for herself.”

Prices for cloth masks across the country vary, but some are being sold for as low as $15. One small company using its own "designer" fabric charges $60. Generally the cost varies depending on the type of fabric used and the size of the mask.

All negative comments were removed from under Waddell'sInstagram posts.

But she responded to the outrage via Instagram stories on Wednesday. She admitted she tends to delete negative comments on her feed, but said the intention was to address the issue.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have deleted before doing so,” she posted.

She said she has nothing to hide but understands why some people may be upset.

“For some people, a price point of $75 or $100 was met with disapproval and I would like to explain that.

“This year, the mas industry in TT was fortunate to see their Carnival take place but we watched sadly as one by one, international carnivals experienced a wave of cancellations (as it should be) effectively wiping out income for the mas industry in 2020 and possibly beyond.”

She said her team is like family and that they rely on her to help them keep food on the table.

“This is called a project because it represents a team of people trying to provide for their families during this. Between that and the amount of time and care and different hands that goes (sic) into creating two quality masks, individually cut and sized, we just can’t compete with $15 for one.”

She said she wishes she could donate “a million masks to the world” but doesn’t have a factory or enough support.

“We are but a handful of people who can’t produce high numbers, so the focus remains on quality.

“I ask people to support the movement. Because how sustainable it is for my team if we make masks for free? Until we run out and that’s it? We need to be able to keep going.

“My price point isn’t so bad when you hold it up against three boxes of the disposable ones from the pharmacy for the next three months.”

She said she hopes her explanation brings clarity to those who were upset, adding that everyone has to help each other to get through this difficult time.

“I don’t like to breathe life into bacchanal but it’s important for the sake of this project and people on it for me to deal with these things head-on and keep that negative energy from spreading into our work.”


"Designer defends $75, $100 cloth masks after backlash"

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