Skip to main content
Cart

Sign up to be notified when our V3, V2, and V1 Face Masks will be restocked next week!

TB blog: news and thoughtful thoughts on bags, design, and our company. Subscribe to receive new blog posts via email
or RSS.

What it's been like at our Seattle factory as we've made face masks

https://www.tombihn.com/products/facemask

Above: Irma cuts fabric for our Reusable Cloth Face Masks. We're now manufacturing over 20,000 masks a week here in Seattle.

This: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14V_vow2qQi7rri9BB5ZVbX0TspkCL70cyJwKt44Eneo/

The above spreadsheet shows you our work. It shows you how many masks we’ve made and how many masks we’ve donated (thanks in large part to you) since we started making masks on March 25th. It is my philosophy that the actual work we are doing right now is more important than any words I can share with you.

 
 
The staff and volunteers at HanaCares in New York. 


We started sewing and prototyping cloth face masks around March 16th. We began making masks on the production floor on March 25th; today is April 25th. In that one month, we have made over 67,000 masks. We expect that number to increase over the next month; the first mask designs we made were very slow-going. Our current Reusable Cloth Face Mask is much faster to make. Our production crew has been working intelligently and diligently to increase efficiency; those efforts have amounted to a 2x increase in the number of masks we’re able to produce each day. At this point in time, we are able to produce 20,000+ masks a week. 

The past month has felt like a year; so much has changed, so much has happened, and there’s still so much work to (gratefully) do. 

Below are some snapshots of what it’s been like here, just stuff we want to share with you. And as we share this with you, we want to invite you to share your experiences with us in the comments. This post feels awfully one-sided; if we were talking with you in person, we’d much rather hear what you’re up to as opposed to going on and on about what we’re doing. We hope you are safe and well.

  • We transitioned from making bags to making face masks in roughly two weeks. Probably the quickest design-to-manufacturing-to-public-offering we’ve ever done.

Left to right: Julia T., Brad, Quentin, and Kayla. Each purchased our Reusable Cloth Face Masks and shared these photos with us; hope they give you a sense of how they fit on a range of folks. These are all the Original size of mask. 

 

  • In the beginning, it felt like a rollercoaster; one day, we’d secure materials, and the next day, that would fall through. One day, we’d solve a manufacturing challenge, and the next day, a new one would pop up.

 

https://www.tombihn.com/products/facemask

Irma and Edelmira spread fabric that will be cut to make face masks. Purple is a color we're using for some donation orders.

 

  • You know us: we like to take our sweet time with new designs and can be perfectionists. We found ourselves needing to design and manufacture face masks, something we’d never made before — and to get to it right quick because those face masks were needed immediately. Being our ploddingly thoughtful selves became a luxury we couldn’t afford.
  • Luckily, we found ourselves with the right ingredients — our own efficient and intelligent sewing/manufacturing facility right here in Seattle, two designers who know how to sew and pattern, support from the community and our customers, and professional expertise that often came out of nowhere and just at the right time.
  • Seattle had two weeks of weather 03/25 - 04/25 that was sunny with highs in the 60’s and 70’s. The long days, time change, and our work schedule (6:30am - 3:00pm) allowed us to come home and enjoy hours of sunshine and warm air. 
  • As you can see, our production crew have made their own Reusable Cloth Face Masks with their favorite fabrics and prints.

 

https://www.tombihn.com/products/facemask

Irma wearing a Reusable Cloth Face Mask that Candi made for her out of a favorite fabric/pattern.

 

 

The staff at Mud Bay pet supply stores wearing our Reusable Cloth Face Mask and demo-ing proper distancing.

Staff at the employee-owned Mud Bay pet supply stores wearing our Reusable Cloth Face Masks and demonstrating appropriate distancing. 

 

  • It’s good to be in good company. This Geek Wire article features various Seattle-area businesses who are working on mask-making efforts. We’re a Certified B Corporation, and the folks at B Labs shared this post highlighting the efforts of other Certified B Corporations.

 

https://www.tombihn.com/products/facemask

Me and Fong attempting to discuss mask quantities while maintaining an appropriate distance. 

 

  • We posted our Reusable Cloth Face Mask pattern for free, along with two instructional videos. You guys have been sharing helpful feedback with us; we made several adjustments to improve the clarity of the instructions thanks to you. In many cases, you've told us that this is the fastest pattern you've tried so far, which is awesome: faster pattern means more masks getting made. 

 

Masks sewn at home using our pattern by @tvolcheck

@tvolcheck used our Reusable Cloth Face Mask pattern to sew masks at home. "Like most people I’ve been experimenting with different mask patterns. These stay on, no adjusting mid-wear and are completely comfortable for longer timeframe. Found a winner!"

Jimmy Mooney ordered a sewing machine online in mid-April. Since then, he’s been making cloth face masks using our pattern with the help of his wife. He also gave us some great feedback on the pattern itself that we’ve since incorporated. Pretty cool!

 

  • When we experience challenges as a company, we reorient ourselves within the context of the challenge with this self-imposed directive: do the work. Usually, within the work we do, and by doing that work, the way through the challenge becomes clearer. We do the work, and fuel that work with our underlying motive — the recognition that we always are, and have always been, all in this together.

 

https://www.tombihn.com/products/facemask

Ben and Nik were actually discussing something, and then I made them pretend to be discussing something so I could take more photos for this post. I think they're doing a pretty good job. 

 

  • Our intention remains to benefit others in addition, of course, to benefitting ourselves: imagining we are purely altruistic in our endeavors blunts our blade of discernment. We recognize that, to benefit ourselves, we must be able to issue paychecks, pay for benefits, employ safety precautions at the factory, take time to have pizza and fruit together (while safely distanced!), and rest at the end of our working days. We recognize that, to benefit others, we must continually ask ourselves if we’re doing just that, and if we can be doing a better job of it.

 

https://www.tombihn.com/products/facemask

Trang made her own mask and sewing smock; I love the print she chose.

 

  • In his garage sewing studio, Tom’s been working on mask designs, bag designs, and videos/tutorials to help you be able to make our Reusable Cloth Face Mask at home.
  • Today is the first day that Nik has significant time to work on the new face masks he’s been designing in his head and on paper (well, in the pattern making program on his laptop).
  • We started out with one Original One Size Fits Most size of our Reusable Cloth Face Mask; this size fits a majority of folks, but not all. Thanks to your feedback, we’ve come up with a new Large One Size Fits Most; between the Original and the Large, our face masks will fit (almost) everyone. 

 

https://www.tombihn.com/products/facemask

This is our neighbor Blas who owns Fulcrum Coffee. He's wearing the newer Large size mask; it fits him well. I bought a huge box of their cold brew and it's been keeping me going all week. Very good coffee.

 

  • Speaking of feedback: we sent out a survey to those who've already purchased our Reusable Cloth Face Mask. Thank you to everyone who provided feedback; we've learned a lot about what works for you, what didn't, and what you'd like to see us offer in a face mask in the future. You can also leave a review on our Reusable Cloth Face Mask page, if you'd like.

 

https://www.tombihn.com/products/facemask

TianYing has been working on trimming threads, quality-assessing masks, and shipping orders. 

 

  • We've separated the Donation and Buy A Mask pages; click here to donate only and click here to sign up to be notified when masks will be available for order.
  • We are, indeed, working on a version of our mask with a pocket; there’s much to say about that and we’ll share more when the time comes. I think we have 5 different mask designs in the works right now.

Safety information

Safety is important. See this list of the safety precautions we're taking at the factory.

 

  • Though Washington is still under a “Stay At Home” order, our business remains open / we’re working because manufacturing and shipping masks is considered essential. Bags aren’t considered essential, and that means we’re not manufacturing or shipping bags at this time. We’re still taking orders for bags; they’ll ship once non-essential businesses re-open in Washington.

 

A new use for the Travel Tray........ 

 

  • As efficient as we are, we find that we can’t make enough masks for everyone who wants one of our masks, at least not right now — this is despite all of our efforts. We’re working on that challenge, too. Right now, even though we can't make enough masks for everyone, we think that making roughly 20,000 masks a week is better than making no masks at all, so we're sticking with that. Ultimately, we believe it's all of us working together, particularly the legion of skillful home sewers across the country who will make sure that everyone who wants a cloth face mask can have one.

 

https://www.tombihn.com/products/facemask

Matt is shipping face masks; we can't ship bags right now, but we are still taking your orders and they're very important to us. 

 

  • We’re thinking a lot about you guys. A showroom visit, an email, a phone call, a social media question/answer or comment — they’ll come to mind and we will wonder where you are, how you are doing, and hope that you and yours are safe and well. We have known a lot of you for a very long time.

Eric wearing the Reusable Cloth Face Mask that he ordered from us; size Original.

 

Photo by @ericlabanauskas 

 

4 comments

Darcy

Darcy's the CEO at TOM BIHN. She really likes working. When she's not working, she's probably hiking, reading, making tacos, gardening with native plants or hanging out with human and canine friends.

←Reusable Cloth Face Mask FAQ We're back to shipping orders for bags!→

4 comments

  • DOn on

    Hi, like my 2 masks from you. Can you confirm that these masks(ordered in May) CONFORM to today’s ( June 5) government
    CDC GUIDELINE for cloth masks. That you masks are either 3 ply of materials or more ? For absolutely safety? Thanks!

  • Robin on

    I love that you are working some of your masks on the barter system. I love doing things that way. Then everyone gets what they need without money exchanging hands. Keep up the great work.

  • Julie Hilbring on

    Thank you so much, we love these masks at St. Mary’s ER in Chicago! ❤️

  • Maria Lopez on

    THANK YOU LOVE MY MASK IT IS PERFECT FIT
    AMITA ST. MARYS ERT MSL

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published