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As school year approaches, mask makers see challenging uptick in last-minute orders

While mask makers around Austin have gotten into a rhythm producing masks, the uncertainty of the school year has prompted bulk orders of masks at the 11th hour.

AUSTIN, Texas — Since March and April, Austin Mask Exchange and Savilino have turned into well-oiled, mask-making machines. 

Mask Exchange focuses on small batch and individual orders. Savilino takes on larger orders. Both anticipate getting large bulk orders as the school year gets underway in Central Texas, which could present challenges.

"There's been a huge uptick in sales, particularly with teachers and parents," Craig Nigh, the director of operations and sales at Savilino, said. "Maybe this is something that happened last minute, but people are coming to us because we can do that. We can provide a large number of masks in a short timeframe."

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According to Nigh, demand for masks ebbs and flows with surges in the severity of the coronavirus. With some schools starting in-person classes already, demand is starting to rise again. 

"Some schools are wanting to ensure that they have enough masks for all their students and have some backups as well," Nigh said. "Particularly with the younger kids, they expect they'll possibly get lost or damaged and they'll have to replace them."

Savilino has been working with schools outside Texas as well, primarily private schools or universities, to provide masks. Some schools are buying in bulk with a discount. Savilino has partnered with some university newspapers in the country to exchange masks and marketing.

Austin Mask Exchange founder Liam Kozma said trying to handle bulk orders on a quick turnaround presents a huge challenge. Mask Exchange is all volunteers who are making the masks by hand.

"It is a possibility that weeks from now when schools open at the same time, teachers start realizing they don't have what they need to keep their kids safe and are making those requests," Kozma said. "Hopefully, the schools are able to help, but we're preparing just in case they aren't able to fill the need."

Mask Exchange has already received some requests from teachers for a handful of masks to hold onto as extras for their classrooms. Other teachers of elementary school students and younger have ordered Clearview masks in an effort to keep the kids engaged.

"Some teachers believe if pre-school and kindergarten kids can see the teacher's mouth, they'll pay better attention seeing the teacher smile," Kozma said.

However, Kozma predicts many teachers will order just days or a week before school starts.

"What we've seen is a lot of teachers asking about what we're doing, asking about how they would go about getting masks and generally fact-finding," Kozma said. "We haven't seen a lot of teachers make bulk requests yet, because I think they're waiting to see whether the school will support them and have enough masks on hand for the students who will inevitably come in with no masks or masks that won't work."

Both Austin Mask Exchange and Savilino will provide masks through orders online on their websites.


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