Little Village dress shop switches to making face masks during coronavirus shutdown
In the past week, Novias Davila has made and given away over 1,000 face masks to help with shortages as the number of coronavirus cases rises daily.
It was Friday morning, March 20, and the dressmakers at Novias Davila were altering about a dozen dresses so they’d be ready for final fittings.
By that afternoon, Gov. J.B. Prtizker had issued his stay-at-home order, shutting down all non-essential businesses.
But if the Little Village shop’s normal work isn’t officially essential, it has kept its employees busy making one item that is: face masks.
“We heard on the news that there was a shortage of masks and we really wanted to help our community the only way we know how,” said manager Patty Navarro. “So we started making masks in a way to help our community overcome this.”
Canceling those final fittings was a costly move. This is the start of a busy time for the Little Village shop, with hundreds of pending orders during the peak wedding and quinceañera season.
Novias Davila staff started calling clients with the bad news: their dresses would not be ready when promised. That’s when Navarro started thinking about the shop’s seven employees, who would certainly be out of work for the foreseeable future.
Novias Davila has made quinceañera and bridal dresses for 22 years; for the last seven, it’s been in Little Village at 3535 W. 26th St. In that time, it has become part of the community, so closing up shop during a public health crisis wasn’t really an option.
Since Friday, Novias Davila has made over 1,000 face masks to help with shortages as the number of coronavirus cases rise daily — all are free. They are fulfilling individual orders and orders up to 100.
Tania Hernandez, the shop’s owner, came up with the idea and all the seamstresses were excited to get to work.
“We will make as many as you need, no questions asked,” Navarro said.
Navarro said they’ve already made masks for nearby health clinics, lunch aides at Cicero School District 99 and people living in the neighborhood.
The financial burden of making these masks are real.
The small business averages about a dozen final dress-fittings every week. Those fittings are the last check before a person leaves with their dress and when the shop finally gets paid; prices range from $400 to $1,500.
Navarro said these are the months when people plan summer weddings and quinceañeras. Their main source of income has been lost as venues shut down and events are canceled.
Making free face masks is ultimately cutting into their bottom line. They are using all the fabric they have in stock and can’t go out to buy more with the statewide order still in effect.
“The order to stop working is a big impact on us because there is no incoming money,” Navarro said. “Everything is going out, all of our products, and we are still hoping to pay our workers.”
Navarro remains optimistic there will be state or federal help for small businesses like theirs.
Regardless, Novias Davila will keep making, and giving away, the masks.
“We are all doing this for free because this is coming from a place of love and deep within our hearts,” Navarro said. “We want to help and make sure our community is safe.”
Navarro said they are not asking for any monetary donations but are running low on supplies; they would welcome any new, unused fabric.
People interested in donating should go to the Novias Davila Facebook page.
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.
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