LilyWMasks Interview – Meet the Master Behind the Masks

Ellie O'Connell, Managing Editor

           We all know this school year looks a bit different: every student, teacher, and administrator is in masks at all hours of the day. I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Lily Williams, a freshman, who began her own business sewing and selling masks over a year ago. I got to hear all about her business journey and the consequential success of her company, LilyMasks. 

           Lily shares what inspired her to start her business last fall- Once COVID-19 hit, we were all out of school, bored at home, and were searching for ways to pass the time. Like everyone, Lily looked for a way to spend her days wisely,  as well as to make a few bucks. At the time, with the new requirement for masks to be worn everywhere, Lily’s mother, a talented seamstress herself, was struggling to find the perfect mask and began trial and error in sewing her own- Lily began to help her mom at the sewing machine and came to realize that she loved it. The two began sewing masks together and donated over 100 masks to the Interfaith Council (IFC), and thus her passion for sewing and helping others began. 

             I asked Lily when she decided to ultimately make her sewing masks a business and what prompted it; she responded. “So, I feel like I never really […] decided to do that because I made masks for my mom and Sarah (Lily’s older sister, a Jordan alumna). And then Sarah’s friends and my mom’s friends saw them and asked about them, so I made some for them and I made some for my friends- I feel like it just started to get going and it really at first spread through word of mouth, and then once it became a big thing, I made an Instagram and tried to reach out to people and post on social media.” And just like that, Lily’s pandemic pastime quickly blossomed into a booming local business, desired and worn by hundreds in Durham. 

            Of course, no successful business comes without struggles. Amidst worldwide chaos with the global pandemic gaining speed, Lily had to quickly adapt to the life of an 8th grader doing online school 4 days a week, while also managing dozens of orders per day. “Sometimes it was hard to manage, […] just having a time limit of when I had to deliver them, was kind of stressful for me when I had a lot of orders.” So, on top of homework, tests, extracurriculars, COVID, and the day to day struggles of a teen, Lily was sewing and delivering multiple masks per day. As you can imagine, her schedule grew pretty busy for a 14 year old. On a day when she would have a particularly larde heap of orders last year, Lily shares: “… I’d start sewing 30 minutes before my first Zoom, and I’d get either the first steps of my masks done, or I’d finish them, and then I’d go onto my first Zoom.” (In contrast to many of us who would roll out of bed at 8:55, before our first class at 9) She says, “We had 15 minutes between each class, so I would sprint into the playroom (her sewing headquarters at the time) and do a few steps and then go back onto my Zooms.”

           The typical process of ordering a mask from LilyMasks is as follows: “Whenever someone orders, I send them a template of my fabrics [through Instagram] and I have them numbered […] and I’ll say my masks are reversible, so for every mask, you get two fabrics, they are $10 each and then I’ll deliver them when I’m done. So then they say ‘Okay, perfect!’, and then I would text them when they were done, give a time and say ‘Is this good?’ [for delivery].” The customers could either leave the cost in the mailbox or could digitally Venmo Lily the money. 

        Evidently, upholding this kind of demanding business requires money, materials, communication, and transportation. “So, when I first started, my mom loved sewing so she had a ton of fabric. So I didn’t spend any money on fabric at first, which is crazy because fabric can be expensive. And then we bought the elastic and that was like $2 […] and my mom also had a sewing machine.” Eventually, “When I ran out of that fabric, I always went to Jo-Ann’s and I’d probably spend $15 to 20 on fabric at a time. Considering how much I spent on materials, my business was pretty much 100% profitable.” Lily informed us that delivering her masks in person was an important value to her business- Consequently, her and her sister, Sarah, would then spend afternoons driving around and delivering masks to those who had ordered. (Lily disclosed an anecdote about her delivering masks with her sister- “I think it’s funny because she was like ‘You need to pay me for gas’, and I would get really mad because I was like ‘You love driving me around! You always offer’. So I probably gave her overall 50 or 60 dollars in total- But I owe it to her and a lot of her friends because most of my first customers were Sarah’s friends. They would post me on their Instagrams and- so I’m really grateful to them for really growing my business.”)

          Apart from the actual production, so much goes into maintaining an enterprise: data, treasury, and managing all of these statistics. In our interview, Lily showed me the extensive spreadsheet she has kept over the past year of every order she has gotten. “I have the name, the date, the order, and then the price.” Since about September of 2020, Lily has sold over 300 masks, 120 cloth napkins, and has made over 3,000 dollars.” She has also gifted over 124 masks, 12 cloth napkins, and additionally has a count of over 80 different customers who have returned at least once to buy more products. 

        Luckily enough, her newfound love for sewing found her a hobby that could not only help others, keep herself busy, but it also became something that would bring her joy. “Masks were a way for me to feel productive because I needed to get them done, but they weren’t homework and I love sewing and it calms me down.” She shares that this experience also taught her how to run a business, manage stress, how to better communicate with people, and run a professional and desired business. The impact of Lily’s masks on the community soon became clear to others as well. Lily told us the first time she heard of her masks being worn outside of her family and friends- “My Aunt Kelly said that she was at the mall and a store worker was like ‘I have seen those masks all over!’ and I was like, ‘That is so cool.’”

        Transparently, with a business built on a global pandemic in which (as we hope!) will eventually fade, I asked Lily what plans she has for the future of her business- “People ordering masks has definitely declined since the beginning of 2020 and 2021, but I’m making cloth napkins, and I want to figure out a different…something else… to make, but I’m not sure what that is yet! I want to continue my business. I’m not expecting it to be as big of a business like it was last year, but I’m hoping to make new things and keep advertising them on my mask account.” So, stay tuned to see what creative direction LilyMasks’ goes next! Catch her on Instagram at @lilywmasks and place your own order today, or you can even see her in the hallways here at Jordan High School.