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Chris Savittiere

Chris Savittiere's staff has made thousands of masks. (Chris Savittiere)

For ten years, Chris Savittiere supplied upscale restaurants and hotels in Austin and around the country with aprons, uniforms and leather goods. To start, the self-taught designer converted his Austin house into a sewing studio. A couple of years ago, he opened a shop on Austin's east side for his business, Savilino.

Then, as restaurants and hotels were hit by coronavirus concerns and regulations, the business disappeared overnight.


"I laid off my staff," he said, "and asked if they would stick around for a couple of days and make some masks and see what happens. I said, 'It's either going to be a big dud because no one is going to wear one or it will keep us afloat for a while.'"

The first week they had enough work to keep people going. Then, in the first days of April, they made it onto the news one night, and the Centers for Disease Control issued the recommendation that people wear a cloth mask in public.

"And it just blew up," he said. "Immediately, we hired more people."

Savilino was suddenly receiving about 3,000 mask orders per day. Savittiere says the business has produced over 12,000 cloth masks, and that about 9,000 more are currently being made.

He is building "a small army of home sewers." So far, he has about 17, with more coming on board every day. He provides curbside pickup of the materials the sewers need.

Inside the shop, wearing masks and sanitizing frequently, is an eclectic team. A hairstylist is handling the phone, while another is in charge of orders. An old bartender buddy of Savittiere's, who is also an actor, is managing the shipping area. Lighting people are cutting fabric.

"It's a ragtag group of people," he says. "Everyone is just really dedicated."

Some of his customers are previous clients, who are still trying to stay in business, such as restaurants offering take-out service. Other orders are coming from the public as people call, write to him on Instagram, contact him on Facebook and text. To manage the process, he sends them all to the company's website.

He has donated masks to the ARCH, an Austin resource center for the homeless, and says that when he is ramped up and able to fill existing orders, he will begin to donate masks to other organizations. He has also made it possible for the public to use his website to commission masks for donation.

For now, he is navigating various bottlenecks in the supply chain, working to reduce the current 10-to-14-day wait for masks. He thinks his team will be caught up in about a week, and then able to fill orders more quickly.

At some point, when people are able to return to restaurants and hotels, he will have to face the question of whether to go back to his previous business. He is concerned that as these clients face harder times, custom goods may be one of the first things they cut. He also says that he is having a change of heart.

"I'm feeling more of a responsibility to the community and things that benefit the public," he says. "I feel there's a cultural shift that's going to happen after this."

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