By: Hillary Chang, FCSN Voices Senior Youth Reporter
After the shift to online learning during March 2020, Sufen sought ways to help out during a time of crisis. She was alarmed when she saw news of disposable masks posing a threat to marine wildlife. She discovered another problem with masks when she encountered children who didn’t want to wear uncomfortable, disposable masks. When she saw a YouTube tutorial illustrating how to make window masks in an effort to help deaf people who communicate by reading lips, she decided to experiment with making lighter, better fit, reusable masks.
Sufen spent days at the sewing machine, working late into the night to bring her ideas to life. Because she was completely new to mask making, she initially followed YouTube tutorials to create her face masks. She started with a simple design using a single cut of fabric. However, through feedback from others, she realized masks made out of a single cut of fabric weren’t very comfortable, as they fit too tightly on the face. Therefore, she changed her design, sewing two pieces of fabric together to create a mask more curved around the nose like a bird’s beak, which she received a lot of positive feedback for. Not only did Sufen experiment with various designs, but she also tested different materials. When she realized certain materials were difficult to breathe through, she chose to use cotton and nonwoven materials for her homemade masks.
Sufen’s homemade masks, which are made to be adjustable with a bead that can tighten the ear loop—and are also reversible, as they are sewn in a way so they can be worn on either side—have garnered popularity amongst users. Within two years, she has made around 2,000 masks. She separates each mask into individual Ziploc bags and distributes them to schools, grocery stores, and other public centers. While she was delivering masks to those around the community, word of Sufen’s masks got around and friends began requesting them as well. Sufen began shipping masks to people from all around the world: sending shipments of homemade masks to Europe, Mexico, Japan, and Taiwan.
By staying up late at night to make masks, Sufen has gained a lot from her experiences ideating and creating. Not only has she learned more about sewing, but she has also had a lot of fun brainstorming various mask designs. As Sufen selects different fabric patterns for her masks, she considers different themed patterns, choosing seasonal, holiday, cartoon, and cultural based designs.
As she continues making masks, Sufen also strives to explore other creations, potentially experimenting with soap and lotion making. Although she initially doubted her abilities with mask making, after making thousands of masks, she now sees mask making as a piece of cake. As a result, Sufen encourages others to try out their own interests—whether it be designing, building, or even mask making.
Even though several have insisted on buying her masks, Sufen stands firm with her decision on giving away the masks rather than selling them. “Giving and selling are totally different. Giving makes people warm. When we give, we give not the thing, but our heart,” Sufen said. She emphasizes the joy she derives in giving masks, and hopes her story will inspire others to also value the concept of giving.