Paxton models her handmade masks for the Facebook group “UofA Girls Sell Your Stuff”. // Courtesy of Skylar Paxton

For companies across the U.S., the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have caused closures and reduced sales, but the new demand for personal protective equipment has inspired some to develop small businesses to turn a profit.

Skylar Paxton, a junior majoring in apparel merchandising, started her company, SP Designs, as a way to make a profit while being out of work during the pandemic. Her business sells products such as homemade masks and tie-dyed apparel from its Facebook page.

“I wasn’t able to work my normal summer job yet because they weren’t letting us work because of the virus,” Paxton said.

Competing in pageants since she was a baby allowed Paxton the opportunity to try out various dresses and outfits, ultimately inspiring her to pursue a career in fashion design, she said. She hopes this business will help kick start her career.

Aware of her program of study at the UofA, Paxton’s former employers at Ouachita Electric in Camden, Arkansas, commissioned her to make 60 masks within one week.

“I stayed up until 2 a.m. all seven days to get those 60 masks done, and then they also wanted their logo on them,” Paxton said.

Paxton used a computerized cutter and iron-on fabric to make the logos for each mask. Selling the masks at $6.50 a piece, she made a total of about $400, estimating each mask to cost about $3 to make.

“I felt good knowing that I was helping out with the coronavirus and controlling the spread as much as I could,” Paxton said. “Then, I got lots more people asking me to make them for their businesses or themselves and their family.”

After her success with selling to Ouachita Electric and others around Camden, her hometown, Paxton said she wanted a way to stay occupied and earn money. Ultimately, she decided to start SP Designs, where she sells masks and clothing.

Upon moving back to Fayetteville from Camden in July, Paxton began advertising her business on the “UofA Girls Sell Your Stuff” Facebook page, garnering further steady business.

Paxton’s tie-dye masks are some of her most popular products. She sells individual masks for $12, two for $17 and a pack of three for $20.

“I’m pursuing my dream of becoming a fashion designer –– and hopefully, someday it’ll come true,” Paxton said.

Jessica Griffin, a sophomore, purchased two of Paxton’s tie-dye masks to wear for herself. As Paxton’s roommate, she said she wanted to support her friend’s business.

“She’s worked so hard these past months making masks all the time,” Griffin said. “She’s always in her room making them and contacting people that buy them and posting on social media about them.”

Griffin has not purchased anything other than the masks from Paxton, spending a total of $10 which she considers reasonable. Paxton’s dedication to her work was one reason Griffin chose to buy the masks in addition to their “trendy look,” Griffin said.

For others, the demand for personal protective equipment has paved the way for innovation. Vincent Edwards, a faculty member who works in 3D fabrication with the UA School of Art, participated in a project over the summer focused on 3D printing face shields.

Prusa Research, a Czech 3D printing company, refined a design for face shields as the pandemic hit Europe before it hit the U.S. Edwards was able to use that template on the UofA’s three Ultimaker 3D printers in order to quickly satisfy the growing need for personal protective equipment, he said in an email.

“The goal was to fill the need for PPE that was in very short supply,” Edwards said. “(Medical) workers depend on N95 grade respirators to keep them safe, and the face shields provide a barrier of protection for those respirators so that they can have a much longer service life.”

Edwards made and distributed 200 face shields to local medical workers over the course of the project, with each face shield costing around $2.25 to make. He used PLA filament, a type of material used in 3D printing made from renewable resources, and clear transparent film. The cost of consumables, such as the film and filament, was covered by the UofA.

Members of the project distributed the shields based on necessity and did not charge recipients for the shields.

While many are voluntarily wearing masks and other PPE, the UA Associated Student Government and Graduate-Professional Student Congress have sponsored a mask-designing contest for students to encourage wearing masks on campus this semester and showcase student designers. The contest ends Aug. 24.

Finalists will be chosen by a team of ASG and GPSC executives, after which voting will be opened to students on social media to decide the winner, said Julia Nall, ASG president and one of the coordinators of the contest.

The winning mask will be distributed to students for free in a limited quantity, and organizers hope to work with a local store to offer them for sale.

“Obviously, masks are going to be required all around campus this semester, and it’s just important for your general everyday use,” Nall said. “We thought that if we could get out some masks that are designed by students, people might be more likely to wear them.”

Organizers have yet to decide where proceeds from mask sales will go, Nall said. She hopes to be able to donate them to the COVID-19 relief fund at the UofA.

“We thought this would be a cool opportunity to highlight student creativity,” Nall said.

Andrew Elkins is the associate news editor of the Arkansas Traveler. He worked as a reporter and photographer from 2018-2019.

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