BERRIEN SPRINGS — Keila Sanchez wanted to put her talents to good use.

The self-taught fashion designer, who makes hand-crafted scarves and other accessories for a living, found a way to do so by helping hospital workers remain safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Saturday, Sanchez spent 24 hours cutting and sewing material together to make 60 cotton face masks intended as a donation to Spectrum Health Lakeland doctors and nurses.

“I just decided that I was going to keep working until I couldn’t anymore,” Sanchez said. “God has given me this talent to sew and help the community. I saw the need for this.”

It all began on March 19, when a friend of Sanchez messaged her about possibly sewing together a few face masks.

Her friend, who is a physician, had heard some grumblings in the medical community about a shortage of masks. Then people started tagging Sanchez in several social media posts concerning homemade masks.

By Friday, Sanchez dove head first into the project by seeking out the proper material and doing her homework on making masks that would be acceptable under the standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I decided to do a little research because they weren’t accepting every face mask,” Sanchez said. “There was a video I watched and played around with the pattern.”

The face masks are considered reusable, made from premium cotton material. She used different types of elastic for the bands that could be washed and dried along with the rest of the face mask.

Sanchez also got creative on the look of the face masks.

Some have inspiring messages on them, while most have patterns with everything from bright colors to animal prints to camouflage.

“I’ve been using tie dye a lot,” she said. “The ‘Wonder Woman’ one has been a favorite for the nurses, who I would say are the superheros on the front lines.”

The masks take an average of 25 minutes to make, from cutting the material to putting labels on.

Sanchez said it took an estimated 16 hours for just the sewing. She started cutting on Friday night and spent all of Saturday fashioning them from within her Berrien Springs home studio.

On Sunday, she wrapped them up and delivered them to area health care sites.

Wearable art to save a heart

In 2014, Sanchez founded KozySaila as a source of light during a time of family uncertainty.

She started sewing from home to cover her daughter Saila’s medical expenses. Saila was born with congenital heart disease, which led to five open-heart surgeries at a young age.

Thankfully, these life-saving surgeries were a success and Saila is alive and will turn 6 years old next month. That led to the slogan of Sanchez’s business: “Wearable Art to Save a Heart.”

Sanchez’s business features a collection of accessories, designed with a mix of fabrics including velvet, leather and cashmere.

In 2019, she showcased her first designer collection for Paris Fashion Week and continues to grow her business from Southwest Michigan.

Now her phone continues to ring, but for another reason.

Sanchez said everyone she knows wants a face mask as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout Michigan and the nation. She has not added them to her business’s website, as it is not a normal item she makes.

“The response has been ongoing. It doesn’t stop,” she said. “I did not expect this to take off the way it did. Some people have been asking to buy some. I’m going to take it one face mask at a time.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski