Sewing masks, saving lives: Yellowcake's Valerie Mayen is up for the challenge of making 2,000 masks

Valerie Mayen is used to taking on challenges—after all, the Gordon Square resident has seen her fair share as a two-time “Project Runway” contestant. But Mayen is taking on her biggest challenge yet: producing 2,000 masks to help combat the COVID-19 crisis.


“At first, I didn’t know how we could be useful in this [COVID-19] situation, other than to provide creative outlets for people to learn to draw or sew,” says Mayen, owner of Yellowcake Shop. “I didn’t know how to help in an effective, impactful way, so it feels good to be able to contribute more.”


In the face of the N95 mask shortage, Mayen is mobilizing her small team of six sewers to create reusable facemasks for organizations and people in need. After working alongside local inventor Ian Charnas to research the most effective approach, Mayen and her team are using the “Olson Mask” pattern, which features a built-in interior pocket for disposable filters.


“It’s not meant to replace the N95 mask, but it is definitely a great alternative to the shortage and low or no protections for nurses working with coronavirus patients,” says Mayen.

Mayen is accepting both donations and bulk orders via her website, along with a “buy one, donate one” option that enables individuals to purchase a face mask and designate one for donation to a facility in need. So far, she has raised close to $2,000 with the ultimate goal of raising at least $10,000.


“Since I first posted on Facebook, I’ve been getting requests from anyone and everyone—grocery stores, banks, childcare facilities. It almost feels like an illegal commodity … like, ‘Hey, I heard you got the stuff!’" jokes Mayen. "We’re prioritizing those in health care and hospitals first, but we hope to serve as many as possible.”


Mayen also sees the initiative as a way to support her out-of-work sewers, who’d been gearing up for a busy season of retail events when Yellowcake had to unexpectedly stop production due to COVID-19. And she’s not the only former “Project Runway” contestant doing so, as Christian Siriano and Michael Drummond have also been making headlines for their ambitious ventures into making facemasks.


“It’s a win-win, as we can provide income for sewers who need it and masks for health-care workers who are requesting them,” says Mayen.


Along with facemasks, Mayen has also teamed up with marketing agency Citrus Social to debut a line of “Quarantine Sweaters” with taglines like “Distance Casual” and “LUVYR NGHBR.” According to Mayen, more than 120 sweatshirts were sold within 24 hours of their debut, with $5 from each purchase going to support the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.


Though it’s far from the spring fashion season Mayen had initially envisioned, it’s a meaningful way to help others during this time of crisis. “It almost feels like [we’re those] women in wartime who got called to work in the factories,” she says. “We’re fighting the good fight.”

Jen Jones Donatelli
Jen Jones Donatelli

About the Author: Jen Jones Donatelli

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast.

When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.