The Helpers: Laid Off Fashion Designer Sews Stylish Masks to Protect Against Coronavirus

Submitted by rudyarispe on April 4, 2020 - 12:56pm
Leighton Whittington cuts fabric to make face mask
Leighton Whittington cuts fabric to make a face mask. Photos by Marc Arevalo

San Antonio fashion designer Leighton Whittington had just been laid off from his job as lead stylist of the salon at La Cantera Resort & Spa and felt a sense of dread and helplessness while pondering what the future might hold amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Looking around his living room, his eyes fell upon the mounds of soft, colorful fabrics piled on a table when a brilliant idea suddenly struck him.

“I thought, ‘Wait a minute. I’m a fashion designer with a surplus of fabrics and elastics, and the fashion industry is known for being wasteful when it comes to scraps of fabric,’” Whittington said. “I said, “This is the perfect opportunity to put that surplus of fabrics to good use, and to do something to help my community stay safe.’” 

And with that, Whittington started his mask-making project,” Give with Heart, Breathe with Style” and has already sewn and sold about 200 after getting the word out on social media. The masks, which he sells for $10, are made with high-woven, double-layered cotton and a filtering bond in between. For each one sold, he donates one to the medical community.

“We’ve been hearing that so many of our doctors and health care workers, who are working on the front lines, are in short supply of necessities, like masks,” he said, adding that the ones he donates will be made with plain, white cotton. “The more I sell to the community, the more I can donate to doctors and nurses who need them.”

Face masks being wrapped to go, photo by Marc Arevalo

For others who have placed orders after learning of the project via Facebook and Instagram, Whittington is taking protective masks to a whole new, fashionable level with cool styles, such as the French linen mask, the Gingham mask, and the most popular so far, the Pretty Bird mask. “Being a fashion designer, I want to make them stylish, so that you look cool while protecting yourself to stay safe and healthy,” he said.  

Tracy Bilotta ordered several from Whittington recently and dropped them off at her doctor’s office in Camp Bullis. “They were all so appreciative,” she said.

As requests for his stylish masks have been increasing, the designer realizes he can’t keep doing it all alone. So he’s enlisted the help of his partner, Marc Arevalo, whom he has taught to cut patterns and pin fabric. It takes Whittington about 15 minutes to sew each one with his industrial Singer sewing machine.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Whittington hopped on his electric bike and pedaled from his Jefferson neighborhood home to drop off masks to people in the Monte Vista, Olmos Park, King William and Museum Reach areas.

Elisa Limón Kern, owner of Canela Vintage, learned about the mask-making project through Whittington’s Instagram account and ordered several for herself, her husband and kids. The designer met her at a location in King William to deliver the masks in person – but making sure they stood 6 feet apart.

“I think this is a beautiful way to help the community stay safe, and I wanted to support his project” she said. “(The masks) are so well made, and it’s awesome to own something (the designer) hand made.” 

Whittington even takes the extra step of carefully wrapping each mask in wrapping paper along with including a handwritten card in part that reads: “Thank you so much for supporting the “Give with Heart, Breathe with Style” project from Leighton W. Couture. We sincerely hope you enjoy your new stylish mask and take comfort in knowing we will donate one to the medical community.” 

To order a mask, go to www.leightonw.com.