CHEK Upside: Laid off due to COVID-19, three Victoria women launch booming mask business

WatchIt may not look like a traditional place of commerce, but at the very top floor of one Quadra Village home, business is booming.

It may not look like a traditional place of commerce, but at the very top floor of one Quadra Village home, business is booming.

“So ground zero right now is my attic,” said Karmen McNamara, co-owner of The Kindness Factory.

The humble crawlspace is where it all started for McNamara. She was laid off due to COVID-19 and with little to do, started sewing masks to pass the time.

“It turned into pay what you can, and then it turned into people buying them and it turned into I needed help,” said McNamara.

That’s when her friend Ivy Lewney stepped up.

“I was like ‘hey if you need help let me know’,” said Lewney, a third-year University of Victoria student.

Lewney suffers from severe asthma issues and is considered immuno-compromised. Therefore, the 22-year-old has been strictly isolating since mid-March as a precaution to avoid contracting COVID-19.

“I don’t want to risk it. The last time I got pneumonia I was just bedridden for four days and that was from a regular cold, so can’t really risk it in this scenario,” said Lewney, who said she’s contracted pneumonia four times before.

Lewney has had little contact with the outside world, while McNamara has also dealt with major adversity as her mother passed away earlier this year.

“I was just in a really ugly place and I needed something that made me feel like I had purpose, like I had a reason to get up in the morning,” said McNamara.

And thus, The Kindness Factory business was born. Ivy and Karmen work on the masks, while the third co-owner Shannon Graham handles finances and the website. Graham also lost her job as a software engineer due to cuts as a result of the pandemic. Not only have the three formed a viable business, they’ve also added jobs to the local economy.

“We currently have nine people sewing for us and one sewing assistant, and we’ve partnered with a delivery company to do all of our in-town deliveries by bike,” said McNamara.

The Kindness Factory also donates approximately twenty masks a week to local non-profits including the Red Cedar Cafe in Victoria.

“It’s been the best thing that could have probably happened in a global pandemic for me,” said Lewney.

McNamara says they focus on fun fabrics and proper fit around the nose, but bigger than the masks — these entrepreneurs have turned a dark time into an opportunity that benefits both themselves and their community.

“I’m just like so thankful that I’ve been given this opportunity and that everyone seems to be happy with is so far,” said Lewney.

“I am completely overwhelmed and shocked and grateful,” said McNamara.

Kevin CharachKevin Charach

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