Binghampton retailer repurposes traditional West African fabric to make masks

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MEMPHIS, Tenn.— A Memphis business owner is using her unique fabric to make masks rather than colorful dresses and skirts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grace Byeitima owns Mbabazi House of Style on Broad Avenue. The business also has operations in Uganda.

“I source locally in Uganda but they come from West Africa that would be Senegal, Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast,” Byeitima said of her traditional West African fabric.

Like many others in her shoes, the owner faced a lot of uncertainty in the last few weeks.

“If you’re a small business, we didn’t make any money in March, we’re not making any in April and I don’t think we will in May,” she said.

Like her designs, she got creative and started to conceptualize making masks, both practical and fashionable.

She finally posted them for sale, and they were an instant hit.

“Between yesterday and Tuesday, we’ve had 84 orders on our website for people ordering then we have people that will call. So it’s been a little overwhelming,” she said.

About 60 percent of the orders are local. Others came from as far as Washington and California.

Each one costs $15. They’re pre-washed and they’ve added a slot for a filter.

“If I was to cough, the recommendation is to cover your mouth. I have a mask to do that for you,” she said, though pointing out they’re not “medical grade.”

Her masks will provide peace of mind for the public and for this business owner, who said she’ll now be able to pay rent for another month.

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