This Melbourne-Based Small Business is Helping Victorians Mask Up
From fashion label founder to face mask maker in a matter of months.
Ann-marie Hansford began this year finalising a brand new, ready-to-wear online range for her fashion label, Havilton. Sample pieces were in their final stages, ready for upcoming photoshoots and last-minute sizing adjustments were being made before the launch this March. However, all that was put on hold as the COVID-19 pandemic enveloped the nation. Naturally, Ann-marie had to adapt, transitioning from designing bespoke pieces for clients that can take months from start to finish, to mass-producing face masks day after day for the Melbourne and wider Victorian community.
Havilton came about after Ann-marie quit her desk job in 2014 to pursue her interest in fashion and explore her creative side. She had always struggled to find garments in her size that were equally ethical, sustainable and not just basics. After years of practice making her own clothes, Ann-marie took the leap designing and hand making her very own wedding dress. Solidifying her fashion knowledge, Ann-marie went back to university and was then inspired to create a fashion label that did just that – ensuring that environmentally conscious and size-inclusive items were at the forefront.
Havilton’s progressive and edgy style meant that pieces a little left of centre were never completely out of reach, although Ann-marie had never envisioned she would be making face masks in response to a worldwide health crisis.
“It all happened so fast,” she said. “I watched the announcement that masks were being suggested to be worn and that fabric masks would be appropriate. Straight after I watched the press conference, I mentioned to my husband I’m going back to work and I literally got up off the couch and left”.
From that point on, Ann-marie spent her entire weekend researching surgical masks – how they worked and why, different materials, the best fit and of course the template – until finally she had come up with Havilton’s own design she was happy with. In order to produce them quickly without having to worry about different measurements, she decided a surgical-style with a nose wire would be the best option.
Reversible and made using two layers of quality cotton with a pocket in between to allow for an additional filter; Havilton sources its face mask materials from off cuts and remnant fabric to align with their focus on sustainability and waste reduction.
At first, Ann-marie though she would be making around 15-20 masks a day however that number quickly escalated. Since then she’s been overwhelmed with their popularity, having to sew and put in supply orders well into the night. “We do our best to process orders as soon as possible but they are still impacted by the delay of the postal service, caused due to everyone operating online and from home,” she said. Replenishing supplies and fabric is becoming harder to manage; Ann-marie has had to cut up larger elastic pieces she had saved for shorts and skirts into strips to use for the masks as her Victorian supplier had run out.
When face masks became mandatory for those in Melbourne Metro and Mitchell Shire areas, Ann-marie noticed a huge spike in orders. “I had to extend our processing time for a couple of days and that felt horrible. It’s something so necessary… You definitely feel the pressure to get them out as soon as possible and hold guilt when they are caught up in the mail network”. To make it easier on those in regional areas, Ann-marie also offered free express shipping to deliver her face masks to customers as quickly as possible.
Having to close her studio, not knowing what the future has in store, this process has been emotionally draining as well. “I was just struggling with the whole scenario and trying to find a way to cope,” Ann-marie said, “until I decided to start making masks”. She has been keeping herself busy and channeling all of her energy into producing these face masks rather than fixating on the numbers that have ruled our lives for the past few months. “Being able to feel like I’m helping … is just enough,” she said.
Ann-marie has always wanted Havilton to be a brand that Melbourne can be proud of. From day one Ann-marie wanted to provide a hub for fashion lovers, environmentally conscious and animal adorers – and her ethically conscious face masks is a perfect example of just that.
“So much of our life doesn’t feel like it’s in our control at the moment, so it’s super important to appreciate what we can still control. Do things that keep us focused on the positive and try to live each day at a time. Dreams might not have a goal date, but we can still dream.”