Fashion Students Make Masks to Fight COVID-19

MasksMasks produced by #ColumbiaMakesMasks
Columbia College Chicago's Fashion Studies students launch #ColumbiaMakesMasks to provide 2,000 masks to healthcare workers in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

Fashion Studies at Columbia College Chicago has launched #ColumbiaMakesMasks, an initiative with the goal of making 2,000 cotton covers for N95 masks to prolong the usable life of personal protective equipment for healthcare providers responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

When Columbia Fashion Studies major Maria Varela heard about front-line healthcare workers having to re-use N95 masks for up to a week due to shortages, she wanted to help. She says, “I talked to a friend of mine whose sister was at Northwestern hospital who is working with Coronavirus patients. And I realized it’s this one weird time in the world where I have the exact skill that people are calling out for—a skill that people need.”

Varela is not alone; as a Senior in a department where learning is now remote, there are scores of students with skills, sewing machines, and a desire to help fight COVID-19. Varela approached her advisor, Julie Fehler, about starting a project where other Columbia students could contribute to her mask-making project.

Fehler responded with enthusiasm—though Varela didn’t know it, Columbia College faculty had already been interested in starting such an initiative. Fashion faculty members Lauren Downing Peters and Fehler had already been engaged, separately, in similar “crafitivist” projects on a much smaller scale. Together, and with the support of Columbia Fashion Chair Colbey Reid and faculty member Justin LeBlanc, they decided to expand the initiative.

At first, the goal was to make 1,000 masks to be delivered to health-care workers affected by PPE shortages. But interest in #ColumbiaMakesMasks has been so high that, as Fehler notes, “[the goal] quickly multiplied to 2,000.” With the assistance of LeBlanc and Reid, contributing students will be mailed mask-making kits and, in some cases, sewing machines, so that they can participate in the initiative.

As Peters says, “It's a great opportunity for us to help the community, but it's also going to be a really wonderful way to help the students feel connected to their Columbia fashion community via these new technologies like Zoom where we'll have stitching sessions, and info sessions where students can work on the masks together.”

As Fehler remarks, “Now is the time for the creative mind. Creative minds are very valuable right now.” Varela agrees: “Everyone’s been so willing to help. I’ve seen so much kindness from people through this crazy time.” As Columbia faculty member LeBlanc notes, “I am thankful that I can help out in any way possible to make someone’s life a little bit easier to get through the pandemic. We are all in this together.”

Current plans are for masks to be distributed to healthcare providers at Oak Street Health and South Shore Hospital in Chicago. Since the inception of the program, #ColumbiaMakesMasks has earned important partners: #GetMePPE is currently working with Columbia to facilitate expanded distribution, and Westfield Old Orchard has partnered with Columbia College Chicago's fashion students through #WestfieldCares. Their financial support has allowed the program to surpass initial production goals.

For ways to get involved, please follow @ColumFashion on Instagram. For more information on giving to Columbia please visit


Rhiannon Koehler
Communications Manager