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#UofReginaCares: Caring for our community
Caption: Business students (L to R) Jana and Robyn Ham established Sask Masks to help meet the demand for masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: courtesy of Jana and Robyn Ham
Caption: Business students (L to R) Jana and Robyn Ham established Sask Masks to help meet the demand for masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: courtesy of Jana and Robyn Ham Photo: Courtesy of Jana and Robyn Ham

U of R business students join forces to supply made-in-SK COVID-19 masks

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: April 16, 2020 12:00 a.m.


April 30/20 Addendum: Sask Masks has sold more than 1,500 mask, with $13,000 going to local charities. Regina Foodbank has received $3,250, and Carmichael Outreach and YWCA have received $3,350 each. The University of Regina Student Emergency Fund has received $2,500, while Variety-the Children's Charity has received $750.

According to the World Health Organization, wearing a mask is one of the best preventative measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, especially in conjunction with physical distancing, hand hygiene, and self-isolating.

Recognizing the increasing demand for masks, four University of Regina Paul J. Hill School of Business students came together to establish Sask Masks, a social enterprise that is not only helping to supply the Regina area demand for masks, but also raising much-needed funds for three local non-for-profit organizations: YWCA, Regina Food Bank, and Carmichael Outreach.

Twin sisters Robyn and Jana Ham are both fourth-year Business Administration students majoring in marketing. They are also active members of Enactus Regina, an entrepreneurship and social innovation club at the University of Regina that promotes capitalism with a social conscience.

Lisa Watson, a professor in the Hill and Levene Schools of Business and a faculty advisor for Enactus Regina, offered the sisters $1,500 in startup funding to come up with an idea for a business that benefitted the community in these trying times. Since the sisters had been sewing since they were 14 years old, COVID-19 masks seemed to be the most fitting enterprise.

“We started researching mask making on the internet,” says Jana. “We looked at various types and found a good design that could be made by intermediate-level sewers. The masks we make are made from 100 per cent quilter’s cotton fabric. That stops between 60 and 80 percent of airborne particles,” she says.

Along with fellow U of R business students and project volunteers Jordan Tholl and Ryan Sellinger, the sisters began making a plan for their business. They started gathering materials and created Facebook and Instagram pages to market their masks. Almost immediately they started getting orders. The demand quickly grew and the team realized they would soon be overwhelmed by demand. Through the same social media channels, the team started to recruit professional and casual sewers to increase production. Within a few days, they had almost 20 sewers, some of whom can produce 100 masks a day.

3rdphoto_1.jpg
Courtney Schick assembling a
mask for Sask Masks from
her home in Martensville. Photo
courtesy of Courtney Schick
2ndphoto.jpg
Jordan Tholl, one of the principals
of Sask Masks, prepares a mask
package for pick up from his
Regina home. Photo courtesy of
Jordan Tholl

One of those volunteer sewers is Courtney Schick, a U of R marketing major who will graduate in June. She makes masks at her home in Martensville, Saskatchewan.

“I’m really excited about this project,” Schick says. “It’s nice to know that we can help out people at this time of need. Our masks provide a good option for the average person and more importantly that means they won’t be purchasing the medical masks that are essential for front line health workers.”

The materials for masks are packaged by the Hams and sent to the sewers across the province who assemble

them and send them back for distribution. At that point, the masks are sanitized, packaged, and picked up by buyers. One of the distribution points is the front step of the Regina home that Tholl shares with his parents.

“My neighbours kind of give me a weird look when I come out with my little gloves and bbq tongs putting the packages outside my house,” Tholl says. “We are slowly catching up on orders now. I think in those first two days we had 130 orders. We are selling between 50 and 75 packages a day now.”

For now, Sask Masks has had to limit orders to three masks per order. They sell the masks for $20 each with net proceeds going to the not-for-profit organizations.

“I would say that it has taught me a lot about all the business aspects of running a not-for-profit,” says Robyn. “A lot of it is dealing with volunteers - so that’s the HR side, there are finances to manage - dealing with the orders and expenses, and then there’s also marketing and communications. It melded a lot of our business classes into one project.”

The team will continue to sell masks as long as there is demand. All the principals agree that their time in U of R business classrooms and their involvement in Enactus Regina has given them the skills required to successfully run Sask Masks.

“From my Business 100 class, to Introduction to Marketing, to my finance classes, U of R’s Paul J. Hill School of Business has really prepared us well for this enterprise,” says Tholl. 

Check out #UofReginaCares for more stories about U of R students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are using their ingenuity, resolve, and hearts to care for our community during these challenging times.

For more information or to place an order, visit Sask Masks on Facebook and Instagram

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