Indianapolis costume designer hires laid-off workers to help her make face masks

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An Indianapolis costume designer known for bringing elaborate characters to life is now trying to help save lives by turning her talents to making masks.

Jess West is known for making some of the best costumes in the city, but these days, she’s using her talents for a different audience.

“I was supposed to travel across from Europe to the Caribbean for seven months, doing my dream job on a boat, and that didn’t happen,” said West, the owner of Jess West Costumes.

West was supposed to be starting next week as Cirque Du Soleil’s head wardrobe and costume tech for their cruise shows.

But the coronavirus pandemic changed her plans.

“I was really sad for about a week and I thought, ‘What can I do to make a change?’ And I have a talent sewing and making things. I’ve also run a business on my own for x amount of time. So I decided to start making these masks,” said West.

Since West was out of work herself, she decided to turn her dream job into one that helps others.

She hired 12 other people who have also been recently laid off to start a new adventure making COVID-19 masks. It’s called the Masked Hope Collection.

“Now, I have been able to create jobs for a lot of people that I know that were in restaurants or laid off of their jobs. They are coming in with me. And they are helping me. I’m teaching them some new skills how to make masks, and we are working together to do that,” said West.

West has made more than 1,000 masks in the last two weeks, choosing from 60 different patterns, giving each mask a unique feel for each person who buys one.

“I wanted to make them more inviting. I wanted people to want to wear them,” said West.

Masks start at $18. She is also making masks for businesses that feature their logos.

West says for each mask purchased, part of the proceeds will benefit local hospitals and those in need. She hopes each piece made will also bring peace of mind.

“It feels really good. It feels really good knowing that I have had a skill since I was a little girl that’s kind of like my super power, and now I’m have to help people,” said West.

West says these are not N95 masks and they are not medical-grade, but they provide some form of protection.