NYC Face Mask Initiative

NYC face mask initiative

On March 13, along with so many other businesses, alternew postponed its launch. Days later, founder Nancy Rhodes, alternew founder and Chief Sewing Officer Isabel Varela, found themselves in a unique position to provide PPE to front line providers. Their call to action was immediately answered and on March 26th, they sent out 450 yards of cotton fabric and 4500 yards of elastic to 45 sewers. Thousands of yards of materials later, hundreds of sewers, daily and weekly drives to pick up and drop off masks and materials and they hit and surpassed their goal of making 35,000 masks for frontline providers, health organizations, immunocompromised, and marginalized communities.⁣

Some sewers made 20 masks while others made 1,000. Some drivers volunteered once while others made weekly or daily runs. Some donors gave $10 and others gave $600. And they never would have achieved their goal without each and every one of them!⁣

Inspiring doesn’t even begin to describe the community built, the new friends made, and the willingness of individuals to come together in times of crisis. It truly shows that there is no task too small to make a big impact.⁣

Face mask update

Our current count is 37,175 masks and that’s not including those who have donated on their own. We’ve sent out enough materials for over 43,000 masks and know that many of you are continuing to sew and donate masks yourself.

What have our organizers been up to?

Nancy .. I have finally been able to get alternew up and running with some great tailors, Isabel as our CSO (Chief Sewing Officer), eager clients, and fun projects! We are also going to be fundraising early in the year! And I’m still designing shoes by day currently building Spring 2021 footwear.

Isabel has been working with Nancy to build alternew which has been so great!!

She is also freelancing, creating content for her youtube and social media platforms, and working her own rebranding to promote more public speaking, sustainable fashion consulting, and life coaching! And in other incredible news, her Documentary has won 2 awards and has been selected for 2 film festivals.

Lauren is launching a fund to invest in small businesses so let her know if you’re interested! You can email her directly here!

Sydney has been working at a startup that connects nurses with skilled nursing facilities. She’s been building a new business for them and it’s been a wild ride and lot of work especially this year with Covid.

Melanie has moved into Manhattan with her husband and their two dogs that always made appearances in our zooms. She’s excited for 2021 and what new things may come!

Sarah has been focusing her efforts on a child safety device that is launching in just 2 months! Before the pandemic her husband and she started researching and developing a product to prevent devastating injury to young children. Between making masks and surviving quarantine, that’s been the 2020 focus. Nothing like it currently exists – it’s truly a breakthrough item that was developed simply to protect their little guy from a type of injury they had both studied independently in their careers. For more info (and even some samples for you moms!) reach out by email or go to

Leigh continues to hunker down in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her rescue dog Lola Bean. She’s grateful for health and home and keeping busy and inspired by learning with and leading the Make Manhattan Fair campaign. Real estate, staging homes and upcycling furniture in between are still her main business/professional work. She’s launching condos with solar rooftop panels this spring coming soon to Crown Heights.

Next steps

We continue to send masks out as requested and ship materials to those who need them with our leftover funds. Please reach out if you need materials or masks and we will do our best to help!

If you’re looking for more ways to help, you can also try NYC Makes PPEMasks For DocsEngines For Change, and Sewing For Native Nations. If you are looking for more resources or want to connect with us, don’t hesitate to reach out!

We all talk regularly about how much this community created a space for us to have power and control in a time when both felt fleeting. We hope you felt the same and as we move into 2021, can reflect on the small things you did that gave you hope, peace, joy, and gratitude


Please know that your family and your own financial health is paramount, but if you have the ability to give even a small donation, it could truly save a life! Please consider making a donation if you can!

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