The online marketplace is becoming a go-to destination for homemade cloth masks. Etsy said there was an average of one mask-related search on the site every two seconds in March.

(Bloomberg)—Etsy crafts never seemed like essential goods. But on Friday, the same day the White House announced guidelines that Americans should wear masks outside of the home, Etsy Inc., No. 18 in the ranking of Digital Commerce 360 Top 100 Online Marketplaces, sent a push notification to every craftsperson on its website in the U.S.: “Calling all sellers,” it said. “Start making face masks.”

The website is becoming a go-to destination for homemade cloth masks. Etsy said there was an average of one mask-related search on the site every two seconds in March. Last week, more than 10,000 sellers sold at least one mask apiece.

Unlike the medical-grade equipment now in woefully short supply at U.S. hospitals, cloth masks can be quickly constructed by anyone with a sewing machine and some elastic. That means the skillsets of legions of Etsy crafters are suddenly in very high demand. “The Etsy community is uniquely positioned to address this crucial need,” the company’s chief executive officer, Josh Silverman, wrote in a blog post Friday.

Etsy sellers have rallied to the call. Emily Egbert had been working as a dermatologist’s assistant in Idaho until stay-at-home orders shut down the office. She started making masks on her Etsy site BleuJune, mostly to have something to do while watching television. Quickly, the orders started picking up. “We went from 17 orders in a day to over 100,” Egbert said. Then, last week, when news reports emerged about the possibility that the U.S. would recommend masks for all Americans, demand skyrocketed.

Egbert recruited her boyfriend, and her parents came down from the cabin where they were sheltering in place, to set up a kind of makeshift assembly line. The work is long, sometimes as much as 18-hour days, she said. Now, her parents are doing 12-hours shifts, and her boyfriend is sometimes working through the night: “He went to bed at like 6:30.”

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Mask-making efforts have been likened to the Victory Gardens, the World War I movement when citizens grew their own food to aid the war effort. In Etsy’s case, it may be an example of the gig economy working as intended, even as the model comes under intense strain during the economic crisis and many people are left fending for themselves without adequate worker protections. (In a tiny example of the frenzied response, Etsy’s initial call to arms contained a typo: “Start making facing masks.”)

Nina Pustylnik runs an Etsy store called UthinkitNinaMakeit that until recently sold personalized textiles like baby and dog towels with tiny, built-in hoods. Since the pandemic started, Pustylnik’s hours teaching medical assistants were reduced, and now she and her sister have been putting in long shifts making face masks, according to her daughter, Tatyana Pustylnik. Nina turned to Tatyana, who’s located in North Carolina, to help with the logistics of running an online store since mask orders spiked. “I keep looking at the numbers and the messages and everything, and they just keep increasing and increasing,” Tatyana said. “It’s crazy.”

Other retailers have joined Etsy’s efforts in donating supplies to help out medical professionals:

  • HP Home & Home Office Store (No. 61), which sells computers, printers and office supplies, says it is donating millions of dollars in technology to help students, families and communities. It is also “mobilizing our 3D-printing team and HP’s digital manufacturing partner network to design, validate and produce essential parts for medical responders and hospitals. This includes parts such as ventilator valves, breathing filters and face mask clasps, as well as entirely new parts such as plastic door handle adaptors which enable easy elbow opening to prevent further spread of the virus,” the retailer wrote in a press release. “We will make available any HP proprietary design files for these parts so they can be produced anywhere in the world.”
  • Winter apparel retailer Canada Goose (No. 204) will use two of its manufacturing facilities in Toronto and Winnipeg for production of necessary medical gear—mainly scrubs and patient gowns—for healthcare workers and patients to distribute to hospitals this week. The retailer’s goal is to produce 10,000 units of scrubs and gowns with about 50 workers in each facility. “Now is the time to put our manufacturing resources and capabilities to work for the greater good,” said president and CEO Dani Reiss in a press release. “Our employees are ready, willing and able to help, and that’s what we’re doing. It’s the Canadian thing to do.”
  • Google plans to work with Magid Glove and Safety Manufacturing LLC, a supplier based in Illinois, to produce 2-3 million face masks in the coming weeks.
  • LVMH (No. 20), the world’s largest luxury goods company and owner of the Louis Vuitton brand, is joining the fight to help combat the coronavirus in France by making large quantities of hand sanitizer. The luxury goods brand during the week of March 16 converted three of its cosmetic facilities to manufacture hydro-alcoholic gel for French health authorities for free. The gel will be provided for as long as necessary.
  • Sports apparel and merchandise retailer Fanatics (owned by Kynetic LLC, No. 14) plans to convert its Easton, Pennsylvania, facility that makes official MLB jerseys into facilities that produce masks and gowns for hospital workers, according to Fanatics founder Michael Rubin. It will use jersey fabric to produce the products.
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