COVID-19 pandemic brings out creativity of Kent State fashion students

Sophie O’Kane sewing face masks. You can purchase her face masks from her Etsy Shop, or by direct messaging her on Instagram. Etsy Shop: Instagram: Courtesy of Sophie O’Kane.

Andre Claudio

As people continue to wipe shelves clean of face masks, some Kent State fashion students decided to take matters into their own hands and create their own.

 Incoming freshman fashion design student, Sofia O’Kane, began making face masks in April after receiving fabric from her aunt. 

 When quarantine first began O’Kane said she was skeptical about everything going on in the world. Once she realized how real the pandemic was and the importance of face masks, she decided to hop on the trend of creating her own and making them fashionable. 

 Before creating her face masks, O’Kane did extensive research online to make sure she was using the best fabric to protect from the virus. 

 “I watched a ton of YouTube and TikTok videos as well as reading different articles to learn what would be the best way to make the masks,” O’Kane said. “I was very cautious when choosing because some of those different interfaces aren’t good to breathe in.”

 In the beginning, O’Kane was only selling the masks to friends and family, but once she realized how demanding the product was, she decided to create her own business. 

 O’Kane said creating a small business was always something she wanted to do, so she believed this to be the perfect opportunity. After brainstorming some ideas, she decided to call her business Phia Grace Fashion.

 “A small business is something I’ve always seen [myself] doing,” O’Kane said. “Once I decided to expand my business though, I knew I wanted to create different styles.”

 O’Kane has now started creating custom Kent State University masks so students can show their school spirit. The masks are also a great way for parents to showcase what school their children attend.

 “My aunt was the one who taught me how to sew, so now that she doesn’t do it as much, she decided to give me a bag full of fabric to use,” O’Kane said. “I ended up buying the Kent State fabric myself which I love.”

 O’Kane said it typically takes about 20 to 30 minutes to create one mask, depending on how quickly she’s working. She has created a three-step process for herself while creating the masks.

 First, O’Kane sews the outer layer and then flips it inside out. Second, she flips it so the design side of the fabric is showing, and then irons it flat and adds the metal piece around the nose. Lastly, she makes the pleats and irons it one last time to make sure it’s completely flat. 

 “At first I didn’t realize how much work goes into making a face mask, but I knew I wanted to put my own out there to help people, so I couldn’t be happier,” O’Kane said.

 O’Kane is currently taking orders through her Etsy Shop and encourages anyone with questions to direct message her on Instagram @phiagracefashion for a quicker response. O’Kane said she is only charging eight dollars for a face mask because she understands the importance behind them and how much people need them.

 “I’m glad I found a way to help others and provide something useful that can help protect people,” O’Kane said.

 Sophomore fashion merchandising student, Kayla Jones, said she started creating face masks once she got home from college as a way to keep her family safe. Her main concern was her grandmother Sibyl Pugh, since she was at risk due to her age.

 “I didn’t have a mask, so I was thankful Kayla made one for me,” Pugh said. “She made it easier for me to be able to answer the door.”

 Due to the lockdown, Jones said her grandmother provided her with old fabric that she was no longer using so that she didn’t have to go out for an unessential trip to the store.  

 At first, Jones used old bandanas to create the face masks but quickly discovered how thin the material was. To her, this was the equivalent of wearing tissue paper. She then started doing research, to make sure she was creating the most efficient and protective masks.

 “I watched multiple tutorials on how to create face masks,” Jones said. “I ended up finding two that I loved, combined them and then created my own.”

 After posting her work on social media, friends and family started gaining interest. Shortly after, they began asking Jones to create masks and other clothing items for them. Since so many people seemed interested, she decided to turn it into a small business for herself.

 Jones said she is currently taking orders and advises anyone who might be interested in purchasing something from her to contact her via Instagram @kaymariej.

 “I would never have promoted it because I didn’t think people would be interested in buying my work,” Jones said. “After a few people asked for custom orders, I knew it would be a great business move.”

 Following along with what Jones is doing, another student who is planning on transferring to Kent State in the fall has also been creating face masks.

 Marlene Valle will be transferring to Kent State from Lorain County Community College and plans to major in fashion design and minor in business.

 When the virus first broke out, Valle’s mother, Teresa Valle, was going into surgery. Although it was minor surgery, Valle said she knew it would make her mother more vulnerable to the virus, so she wanted to protect her at all costs.

 “Since all the stores were sold out of face masks, I thought I’d just make them myself,” Valle said. “I knew it wouldn’t be that hard for me since I already knew how to sew.”

 After watching a few tutorials, Valle started cutting up old fabrics to create face masks for everyone in her household.  

 Valle said she is not currently selling her face masks to the public but hopes that everyone is doing their part in staying safe.

 “I might start selling them on my website soon if enough people seem interested,” Valle said. “For now, I will continue making them for my family as well as following social distancing protocol, to prevent catching the virus.”

Sophia O’Kane

You can purchase her face masks from her Etsy Shop, or by direct messaging her on Instagram.

Etsy Shop:




Kayla Jones

You can purchase her face masks by direct messaging her on Instagram.



Marlene Valle

You can purchase her face masks by direct messaging her on Instagram.