Rowley handbag maker switches to protective masks

Courtesy photo Elizabeth Berthoud models one of the many masks she has made. 

ROWLEY — A local handbag maker is doing her part to make sure that people can breathe easier – and, hopefully, protected from the coronavirus – by turning her business into a protective mask-making operation.

Elizabeth Berthoud has made more than 3,000 one-of-a-kind handbags out of her home manufacturing studio, Sac A Main, over the past 23 years.

Berthoud employs 15 handbag makers but had to close up shop when Gov. Charlie Baker ordered all nonessential businesses shuttered last month.

“It’s been two weeks but it feels like a year,” Berthoud said. “All of the art shows where I sell my bags were canceled and I was feeling kind of panicked. But then I heard on the news that a governor was requesting home sewers to make masks. Then, I was ready to go.”

Berthoud quickly called Anna Jaques Hospital to see if any masks were needed but was told no. Undeterred, she jumped on Facebook and found an ample market.

“I got over 250 orders in 35 minutes,” Berthoud said. “Ten minutes after that, Anna Jaques called and said they had changed their mind and they absolutely needed my masks. But I was already working on masks for the public so they said, ‘Fabulous. The more masks that the community wears, the less patients we will hopefully get.’”

Berthoud quickly got to work designing her masks and her employees volunteered to help out.

“I have all the equipment you need to run a pretty decent size mask business,” Berthoud said. “So far I’ve been able to distribute a little bit over 1,000 masks and there are many, many orders that I am working on. I have my workshop and all my handbag-making stuff and all of the masks are now piled in front of it.”

Berthoud said mask making is fairly simple when you have the right equipment.

“I fold the fabric into an industrial heat press that folds it into proper-sized pieces,” Berthoud said. “Then, I run it through the heat press so I can get a flat surface to cut on.”

The new designer masks serve a public health service but are also “super cute,” according to Berthoud.

“The fabric that has been donated is gorgeous,” Berthoud said. “I am really enjoying all of the different patterns. That’s what is exciting to me.”

Berthoud has taken on some expenses along the way and said she is asking for a $2 donation per mask.

“I don’t want to have people buying them but I am asking for the $2 donation and if they can give more, I would appreciate it,” she said. “But I don’t wait for any payment to pass on the masks.”

Berthoud said interested customers can visit her website at www.sacamainshop.com, where donations of fabric or money are also being accepted.

“I went on Etsy and people are making exactly what I am making and charging $16 or $18 a piece for them,” Berthoud said. “So I have peace that I am doing the right thing in asking for a $2 donation. People have even donated money without asking for masks.”

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

REFER: Merrimac girl, mom make makes, Page 3. 

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