Gies Students Turn Shortage Into MaSKed

While studying for finals in the middle of a pandemic, Gies College of Business student Kayla Gonzalez (BADM ’22) and her roommate Selena Cruz became frustrated. Neither could find any well-made protective cloth masks for themselves or their families – nor did they know how to sew their own.

“We were both shocked by how difficult it was to acquire high-quality cotton face masks that worked, stayed on, and looked great. We also noticed a great need for reusable coverings that can be used for everyday tasks to save surgical grade masks for essential workers,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez – a supply chain major – and Cruz decided to do their part to fix this supply chain problem by becoming business partners. They launched MaSKed, which offers a variety of fashionable masks for adults and children. They’ve also decided to donate a portion of the proceeds to Gies alumna Rachel Jacoby’s non-profit Feed the Front Line Chicago. They are also donating all profits from their Black Lives Matter mask to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“We spent 50+ hours researching materials and watching YouTube videos to learn how to make them properly,” said Gonzalez. “There was a lot of trial and error with borrowed sewing machines from families. Our biggest supply chain hurdle was finding the right fabrics, but we eventually found a local store that would partner with us and guaranteed we could fulfill all of our orders.”

For advice on setting up an e-commerce website, Gonzalez turned to Teaching Associate Professor of Business Administration Mark Wolters. Kathleen Onyejekwe, a member of the marketing and communication team at Gies, offered tips on using social media.

“Kathleen told us to use social media to make connections and share information, instead of focusing primarily on sales. That was an incredibly helpful insight,” said Gonzalez, who added they’ve received strong response from their local communities in suburban Chicago. In the eight weeks since their launch, MaSKed has posted $500 in sales.

The duo started with an orange and blue Illini mask, and now offer many more options. They learned from early orders that their customers were mostly women who were also having a hard time finding masks for their kids, so they’ve expanded the line.

“Supply chain management involves much more than just making sure there is adequate supply to meet demand, but also is a system in which people can serve others out of genuine concern for their needs and well-being. We make sure our students understand this as they seek innovative solutions to problems in and outside of the classroom,” said Nehemiah Scott, director of Gies’ supply chain management program. “The work that Kayla has done with maSKed in a very short time period is a testament to this. It is also a testament to her personal drive and firm belief in creating a business for the greater good.”

The vibrant entrepreneurial spirit at Gies College of Business nurtures students and gives them the confidence to develop their next big idea. For some, it could be launching a startup or developing a product; for others, it’s starting a nonprofit or social enterprise to answer a social need. Gonzalez said the College’s Business on Purpose mission has guided her along the way.

“From the beginning, we longed to make an impact beyond profit, and the choice was easy to collaborate with Rachel to support her cause,” she said. “With this partnership, we can make a triple impact by keeping people safe, supporting local businesses, and helping feed front-line workers.”

Read more about Gies on our Partner Publisher page.