“Do you have your homework? Do you have your lunch box? Do you have your face mask?”
Face coverings have, unfortunately, been part of the school regimen since 2020, as educators advise and/or mandate children to wear their masks all day, every day. The ones kids are wearing, however, often are not doing the job—they’re either too large, too small, too tight, too loose, or the wrong material—and may not provide the best protection against the virus.
With support from the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NY MEP), Marrs Makers, a fashion brand led by an executive with 20 years of experience in New York City’s garment industry, has taken important steps to address this problem, creating a project called Masks Fit for Kids.
Having produced adult masks in cooperation with Brooks Brothers to support the U.S. military and first responders, Marrs Makers quickly identified pervasive issues with kid’s masks: the lack of appropriate sizing and performance guidelines.
To confront these challenges, which span both procurement and manufacturing, Marrs Makers applied for a PPE Assistance Grant under the NY MEP COVID Recovery Initiative. ITAC, the New York City center for NY MEP, administered the fund and awarded a grant to Marrs Makers so that it could address the lack of PPE that is designed, tested and made for children’s use. New York City, with its demographic diversity, including groups hit especially hard by the pandemic, was the ideal location for this effort, which began with a pilot project last spring to measure schoolchildren’s heads and faces at a Queens elementary/middle school.
As a result of its PPE Assistance Grant, Marrs Makers learned many valuable lessons—most importantly that a smaller mask size doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is suitable for children and that there is a range of sizing issues to consider, based on numerous dimensions, which vary across different ethnic and demographic groups.
Marrs Makers also determined that one organization alone can’t solve all of these challenges. Rather, the involvement of an entire ecosystem is needed to advance PPE that protects children’s health.
In the United States, N95 respirators and surgical and medical masks are regulated using standards based on research with working adults. However, these standards do not account for the specific needs of children, who have evolving head sizes and facial features along with a breathing capacity that is different than in older people. Just because a face mask or N95 respirator is smaller doesn’t mean it’s suitable for kids.
Under NY MEP’s PPE Assistance Grant, Marrs Makers has been able to meet with leaders in government, manufacturing and other key areas to determine what can be done collaboratively to provide children with masks that are specifically made for them. The company’s most recent initiative has been creating communications to present to NYC government officials, highlighting the urgent issue of age-appropriate face coverings to slow the spread of infection in schools.
To go forward, Marrs Makers is now asking federal, state, and local authorities to allocate resources that will support a measurement survey of NYC’s school children, a community that reflects the diversity that is so critical to solving the fit and comfort challenge. After collecting the data, Marrs Makers can analyze results and suggest protocols to guide manufacturers of face coverings protecting youngsters–an effort that will benefit children, families, schools, healthcare organizations, industry, and government agencies.
“Mask mandates in schools should eventually disappear,” said Amy Sheets, Marrs Makers founder. “But parents now see the benefit of keeping their kids safe—from colds, the flu or other contagious diseases—and a properly fitting mask is a powerful weapon in safeguarding children. We hope our research can ensure that we know how to design PPE that offers the absolute best protection.”
For more information about this ongoing effort, email Marrs Makers.