Business adapts to meet demand for face masks

Published 8:25am 15 September 2020

Words by Jodie Powell

While many businesses are suffering in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brendale’s K-Lee Designs is flourishing – and helping others do the same.

K-Lee Designs has been designing and manufacturing stretch-wear for more than 30 years, but only started making protective face masks a few months ago.

Desire to help

Owner Karen DeAuzourua says she was inspired to try her hand at masks by a desire to help people.

“I thought `let’s try’ because I love working with bamboo (fabric) and I thought I’d just pop them on the website,” Karen recalls.

“To start with, it was just me making them for an hour or so in the afternoon, but once masks became mandatory in Victoria it was the craziest thing you could imagine.”

Sales take off

Each time Karen’s site records a sale, she gets a notification on her phone.

“I got one notification for my first sale, then it went crazy, so I had to turn the notifications off,” she says.

What was supposed to be a sideline took off so quickly that Karen has enlisted the help of other manufacturers to keep up with demand, with the team sewing more than 500 masks each day at the peak of production.

“We’ve caught up now, but at one stage delivery was 14 days.”

Activewear boom

Karen says the activewear side of her business is booming too, as many people continue to work from home and want to be comfortable, and others ramp up their exercise routines.

“It’s been a little surreal because our factory hasn’t stopped – I’ve had to employ staff, but other businesses have stopped.”

Karen began her manufacturing career making lingerie for party-plan selling, before moving into made-to-measure swimwear.

That led to leotards for gymnastics, which in turn saw her make leotards for the Australian gymnastics team for a Commonwealth Games.

Now, the business mostly fulfills contracts for new start-ups.

“I love helping people get their garments manufactured in Australia,” Karen says.

Seeking expertise

“I’m having to turn people away because everyone wants to manufacture in Australia, and we don’t have people coming through the ranks because everything was offshore.”

Karen says she’s keen to hear from people with experience in making stretch-wear.

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