Supermodel Karolina Kurkova Exclusively Shares Details On Her Locally-Produced Masks For All Initiative

At the outset of the pandemic, supermodel Karolina Kurkova decided she didn’t just want to stand on the sidelines; rather, she decided that she wanted to make a difference in her local community and the country as a whole. And so, she went to her friend, Billie Blooms founder Ashley Liemer with the idea for Masks For All, after which, the entrepreneurs began to design and produce non-medical grade masks for sale to help flatten the curve. Taking it a step further, they also decided to partner with Feeding America, the nationwide not-for-profit organization serving families and communities on the frontlines. For every mask purchased, a mask is donated. Here, I sit with friend and the inspirational super mom that is Karolina Kurkova, to discuss the beginning of the brand, why she decided to partner with Feeding America and how she uses the #masksforall initiative to even personally explain to her own children, why we have to wear masks.

KAROLINA KURKOVAPhoto Credit: Luiz Moreira

DEYVANSHI MASRANI: How do you and Ashley Liemer know each other and why did you jointly decided to start the Masks For All initiative, specifically, in light of the pandemic? 

KAROLINA KURKOVA: I’ve known Ashley for about 10 years and I work with her on some of my work appearances, where she works on my clothing and also personally, she would tailor my clothes for family and for work. When the pandemic started in the U.S., the masks weren’t even mandatory. [But] me being European and having family in the Czech Republic, I learned when the pandemic hit them and how they handled  and dealt with it—they quickly established wearing cloth masks and encouraged [people] not to buy the N-95 [masks] because there was a huge shortage, so we could keep those for the doctors and people who really needed it—the essential workers. I’ve seen a lot of my friends who can make these masks and sew and distribute them. So, I thought, seeing what worked there, and the U.S. being about a month behind, I, being home, already doing the homeschooling, felt like I wanted to do something good and be able to be part of the solution and add something that was valuable. Of course, I don’t have a sewing machine and I don’t know how to sew, but I thought of Ashley and our kids go to the same class and do virtual schooling together. I knew she could sew and has the sewing machines—it’s her job. So, I reached out to her with the idea, ‘Why don’t we make masks to flatten the curve and put out products that can uplift people and bring a sense of style to them?’ Again, they weren’t mandatory when we first started talking, but we knew they’d be important. We started the whole brand from the ground; we put our kids to bed and worked everyday until like two in the morning! We also really wanted to focus on the kids as well from two years old and up to give something to them that’s fun and comfortable, so they’re more likely to wear them—we know [masks are] not fun or super comfortable! But we need [masks] for a reason, so we try to make them as fun and the highest quality that we can.

DM: With each mask purchased, a mask is donated to Feeding America, an organization that you’ve been affiliated with on your own for some time. What is it about Feeding America’s work that resonates with you in particular?

KK: We really wanted to get the masks very quickly out there and wanted to really do good with it, and that’s when we started the concept of one bought, one donated—we wanted to partner with an organization that was reputable that’s been around for a long time, that people know and respect across the whole country. I also have worked with Feeding America for a couple of years. I have a great relationship with them, I know the work they do on the ground—I’ve experienced it first hand, working with food banks and soup kitchens with them in New York and Miami. They were on board to do this with us and to be our partner, and then we knew in order to really have a big impact and donate more for Feeding America, we needed to create some sort of a business. At the beginning, our goal was to do 10,000 masks, which we just fulfilled and now we’re going to do even more, giving proceeds to Feeding America so they can buy whatever they need to fight hunger and essentials they need at the moment for the families that they serve.

DM: The mask designs are fun and eye-catching (I love the lip embroidered masks the most!). How did you both come up with the design?

KK: With some of the designs for the masks, we both come from the fashion world and we like beautiful, visual things. Ashley is about the fit and execution and quality as a tailor, it’s her craft. And I wanted something that was fun and stylish, different, something we felt would make this a little bit more interesting and unique. So, I actually drew a lip one night—and you’re losing your nose and lips when you wear a mask—so we wanted to add that feature back to the people wearing them, especially for women who wear lipsticks. We even gave them fun names like how your lipsticks have fun names like Icon, Rebel, Sassy, etc. Even though it’s a necessity, we wanted to give the masks more fun and style. And with the cat and dog embroidery, we really wanted to make it fun for the kids. Kids love storytelling and they love characters, so we wanted to give them names too—Kaja, the cat, is named after me and the dog is Bowie—and we even have stories about them on our site as well.

KAROLINA KURKOVAPhoto Credit: Luiz Moreira

DM: I also find the mask that I have particularly comfortable and easy to wear for long periods of time, in comparison to other masks I’ve worn, especially due to the subtle chin “flap” and the thin elastic that goes around the ears. How were you able to perfect the construction with these small details that make a huge difference in comfort/wear?

KK: Because of Ashley being a tailor and both of us really working on the design and the fit, the fit of the mask is our design that we’ve created and the elastic is latex-free and produced in Miami. What is really cool about our masks and products is that they’re all made in Miami, in the USA—designed, assembled and hand-made here in Miami. It’s something we’re super proud of, to support local, especially since pretty much all of our staff is female, so they can still work and stay home, working with local factories for cutting and embroidery. So we feel really proud about that, in supporting the local community and becoming very close to all the people that we work with during the pandemic, and continue to work/collaborate with, giving them more work. It’s been such a beautiful experience in that way. We also offer five sizes, from two years old up to XL, to be there for any style, size, shape person out there.

DM: It’s understandably difficult to have children understand the necessity of wearing a mask now and familiarize them with mask safety/protocol. As a mom with two young boys, how do you help them understand this accessory as part of the “new normal”?

KK: When kids buy the masks, we send the story on a beautiful collectible card as well, so parents can educate their kids about why they have to wear masks through storytelling and these characters. That’s why we created these, as parents, to give a better experience for the parents, as well. So, we have five stories—stories that are very relevant to what is going on and what kids are going through—about masks, washing hands/germs, virtual play dates and school. So, the storytelling has a lot to do with what’s happening right now and [we help parents and kids] tackle what’s going on with fun storytelling.

KAROLINA KURKOVAPhoto Credit: Luiz Moreira

DM: As a public figure, you are using your platform and reach to do good in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. What message do you want to send in all the philanthropic work that you do and are doing, to your fellow supermodels/entrepreneurs, as well as to your fans/followers who look up to you?

KK: My message is really, ‘Together we’re stronger, and we need to work together in this.’ I think we need to respect the rules that are in place and wear the masks. We’re not over [the pandemic], we still need to be careful and protect those around us that we love. It’s at least a layer of protection versus not wearing them. The only way we’re going to tackle this is together; we need to act safe, be safe and stay safe. That’s why we’re really creating these masks and making them as cool and beautiful as we can, while making sure people are being protected.

KAROLINA KURKOVAPhoto Credit: Luiz Moreira

DM: As the pandemic continues to be an issue, particularly here in the U.S., do you have plans to expand the Masks for All initiative, and if yes, how so?

KK: We’re constantly looking for new designs and new ways to perfect the masks and be there for everybody, introducing new styles/designs. Also, we do sell online, but we also have been working with other brands/businesses locally and around the country where we are customizing and producing masks for different businesses—whether it’s a jewelry brand, a restaurant, a shopping mall—providing them with branded, customized masks for employees and customers. And while we do that, we still are giving back to Feeding America, providing proceeds from those sales. So, really everything we’re doing, even with retailers, we’re still giving back to Feeding America. This started with trying to flatten the curve and support families out there, so we can really serve the families and people that need it most; so that’s always our constant goal to give back to Feeding America, as their work is crucial right now.