Fashion Designer Helping Stitch Together Face Masks, New Opportunities

How one woman is teaching job skills to others in recovery while aiding her community’s response to COVID-19
Jul 8, 2020 9:00 AM ET
Blog

Stella Hankins, an up-and-coming designer currently making face masks for the public out of her small studio space in Wichita, Kansas, is not shy to share her personal life. “I’ve been in recovery for three years,” she said while discussing her latest project, “so I’ve seen the need for somebody to be an advocate for women in recovery.”

It’s something she feels so strongly about, it’s integrated into her business model for Bella Bonita Designs – a fashion studio she built working out of GoCreate, a Koch-supported makerspace on Wichita State University’s campus. 

Hankins, who hires women looking for meaningful work and the chance to learn new job skills, believes in helping others. It’s what ultimately led her to focus her time and resources on making masks for hospitals and first responders when COVID-19 was just starting to make headlines. 

But while Hankins is using her skills to help her community and other women in need, it wasn’t that long ago that she was the one in need of assistance. She had an idea to start a scarf-making business but lacked direction on how to get started. 

A little research led her to GoCreate, where she found just the creative space she was looking for. She had the background in design and Adobe Creative Suite, and GoCreate had the resources – the dye sublimation printers she needed to print fabric, and the equipment to get her business off the ground.

Even better, GoCreate’s membership assistance program (funded by Koch) made the facility and its services more accessible to Hankins, who was just starting out. So, she decided to apply.

“I was really nervous,” she said. “I remember thinking this was a crazy idea, and that nobody cared about people in recovery. But they accepted me.” 

In collaboration with GoCreate and other area professionals, Hankins launched the Project Protect ICT campaign on Facebook to call attention to Wichita’s mask shortage and rally the community to help with the cause. Then she dedicated her energy and her business to making a difference. 

“They were really helpful in pointing me in the right direction in terms of how to get started,” she said. “They arranged for me to receive 12 sewing machines from Midwest Sewing Company and really get production going.”

Since launching the initiative, she and her small team have already printed, sewn and delivered more than 2,100 masks, with capacity and materials to make an additional 20,000 units. Her larger goal, however, is even more ambitious than that.

“I want to make 100,000 masks. That’s going to be the number for us,” she said.

Hankins has continued to keep up with demand by growing her team in a down economy. She went from employing just a few part-time employees to staffing and training six women and an assistant, all within a couple weeks. In Hankins' words, “it’s been kind of crazy.” 

“The six girls that I have working for me right now, they’re so awesome,” she added. “And they’re so happy to have a job. With all the uncertainty in the world right now, I don’t know if this is going to unravel tomorrow. We’re just trying to be a positive light in the midst of all this chaos today.”

That’s where GoCreate has been more than just a safe space to build a business – the facility and the people that make it a collaborative resource for creators and makers have supported Hankins in her journey to create something for herself, and other women like her. And though she’s lived all over the world, Hankins knows she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be.

“There’s a reason why I’m here in Wichita in recovery,” she said “It’s to help these women out, to be their voice, and to use my privilege and my experience as a way to give back to those who don’t necessarily have that.”

If you’d like to learn more about GoCreate’s membership assistance program or apply, visit https://gocreate.com/assistance.php.