The tailor shops at Oak Hall — beloved fashion retailer in Memphis and Nashville — have taken on a whole new life over the past two weeks. In the wake of stay-at-home orders, Oak Hall President Will Levy and his wife Brooke were forced to think outside the store and find new ways to help their business, customers and community. While funds to keep employees paid were scarce, excess fabric and crafty imagination were bountiful. The Levys saw a need for masks both for their own family and Oak Hall customers but also for their community’s frontline, so what started as an idea blossomed into a result they could never have imagined.
“Right when the stores shut down, we started thinking about how to pivot,” Will and Brooke tell us. “We thought about including a mask with each purchase, but didn’t want to be insensitive.” However, as the pandemic worsened and donning masks became more common, Brooke asked the tailor shop to make some for her family. Around the same time, they heard chatter about mask shortages in their own Memphis healthcare community. A lightbulb went off. The Oak Hall team came up with a plan for production and a mask-for-mask matching program, and it was all hands on deck from there.
Brooke laughs, “I haven’t sewn in 10 or 15 years, but it’s all I’ve been doing lately!” A team of seamstresses and tailors at Oak Hall have been tirelessly hand-sewing thousands of handsomely patterned fabric masks, which can be purchased online for $20 each. For every mask sold, Oak Hall donates another to the Church Health Center, an organization that provides healthcare to tens of thousands of uninsured and underserved individuals. Church Health has adapted throughout the crisis to maintain patient care while establishing new services like drive-thru COVID-19 testing and a new respiratory clinic. They distribute the donated masks to partners and people in need, saving the N-95 and other medical-grade personal protective equipment for medical workers and infected patients.
While Memphis has been the main mask-masking city, their Nashville tailor shop out of the Oak Hall Nashville location is now ramping up production as well. For every mask sold through the Nashville location, Oak Hall will donate one to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
This initiative is a labor of love. “A lot of skill goes into it. They’re spending a lot of time on them. It’s not as easy as people think,” Will tells us. As for the materials, Oak Hall collects damaged shirts, pants, swimsuits and other pieces of apparel to make the double-layered masks. And since the project ignited, many vendors, decorators and designers have generously poured fabric into the cause. Memphis interior designer Greg Baudoin dropped off material, as well as West Coast clothing line johnnie-O.
Oak Hall has sewn and sold more than 2,000 masks and donated that same number. “While this is a not-for-profit effort to make masks and donate masks, it has helped us maintain a skeleton crew in the store to help with essential duties that need to be taken care of,” Will says. “We were trying to help others, and we have had a lot of people thank us and ask how they can help us. Our new and improved website is now 25% off, and items can be mailed all over or picked up curbside in both Memphis and Nashville. We really appreciate all of the support we have received.”
Thank you, Will and Brooke, for taking the time to chat with us, and to the whole Oak Hall team for plastering some safely concealed smiles on the faces of thousands of Memphians and many Nashvillians to come. Memphis residents can grab a mask for $20 here, and Nashville masks can be purchased here — all while helping someone in need stay protected, too. All photos by Katy Stovall.
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