Ashley Nell Tipton

San Diego-Based ‘Project Runway' Winner Makes 700+ Face Masks at Hillcrest Studio

Ashley Nell Tipton, the 2015 winner of TV's "Project Runway," lives in San Diego, and is now using her design skills to make masks for those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic

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San Diego native and “Project Runway” winner Ashley Nell Tipton is using her design skills – and many, many sewing machines – to make face masks that she hopes will help her community in these times of the novel coronavirus.

Nell Tipton – who won the 2015 edition of the fashion-forward TV competition – runs her own design studio in Hillcrest, where she typically makes clothes and accessories.

A couple of weeks ago, as the coronavirus pandemic reached San Diego County, she shifted gears and began creating reusable face masks.

She posted her first mask design on Instagram – one made of bright orange material with a Frida Kahlo print on it – and said customers quickly began to order them.

The response, she told NBC 7, was surprising and a bit overwhelming.

Nell Tipton decided she would transform her studio, for now, into a hub where she would continue creating these face masks. So far, she and a small staff have sewn more than 700 of them.

“We are making face masks until we can’t anymore,” she told NBC 7 and Telemundo 20 this week.

The masks, in Nell Tipton’s signature style, are fashionable and made with vibrant, patterned fabrics. She said the masks are made of felt on the inside, plus two layers of cotton that include the printed fabric and the lining. They’re washable and currently sell for $17.95 a pop.

Now, Nell Tipton knows the masks will not fully protect anyone from COVID-19, but she said at least the masks will hopefully help keep people touching their face, nose, and mouth as much as possible.

“I just think this is something that’s great for everyone to have right now,” she added.

More than anything, Nell Tipton said she is making the masks because she wants to do something for her community in a time of crisis.

She has hired a few friends and family members to help sew the masks – most of whom are out of jobs right now due to the impacts of the pandemic.

She said it feels good to be able to provide some sort of income for the people working in her studio.

Nell Tipton said many people have been buying the masks to donate to others. Some are even offering to donate funds, materials or their time to the designer’s mask-making project.

The fashion designer said the masks are available for purchase on her website here.


Face Masks: To Wear or Not?

UPDATE: On April 2, 2020, San Diego County leaders updated a public health order to include guidelines on face mask usage. The general public was urged to use cloth facial coverings while in public places and required businesses with employees that interact with the public to do so. To read the latest guidance, click here.

The debate on whether to wear face masks during the coronavirus pandemic has been going on for weeks. Health officials have gone back and forth on the use of face masks or coverings for the general public when people go out in public.

Some health experts say wearing masks, scarves or bandanas over noses and mouths won’t necessarily protect you from the coronavirus, but if you’re carrying the disease, it could help reduce transmission of the disease.

In the initial months of the pandemic, health officials based their response on the belief that most of the spread came from people who were sneezing or coughing droplets that contained the virus.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week said he planned to announce new state guidelines on wearing masks. At a press briefing Wednesday, California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell said face masks could reduce asymptomatic transmission and decrease exposure to infectious particles, but ultimately fall short in granting full immunity from infection.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti this week said he was done waiting for state and CDC officials to decide whether or not they would add further guidance on utilizing masks. Instead, he urged residents to begin using non-medical-grade masks when leaving the house.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said San Diego may move in Los Angeles' direction, but said leaders would wait for guidance from the state before issuing their own regulations for mask-wearing.

Health officials have warned that unwashed hands – even if you’re wearing a mask – could still lead to the spread of COVID-19.

According to the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, if you’re sick you should wear a face mask when you’re around other people – like when you’re in the same room or sharing a car, or when you enter a doctor’s office. If you don’t have mask the CDC said you should cover your coughs and sneezes.

If you’re not sick, the CDC said you don’t need to wear a mask unless you are caring for someone who is sick and they’re not able to wear a face mask themselves. The CDC said face masks are in short supply and should be saved for caregivers.

The growing debate on whether you should wear a mask in public gets even more confusing following an announcement from California health officials. Plus, your government stimulus checks are on the way. NBC 7's Mark Mullen has the latest Coronavirus headlines in tonight's Nightly Check-In for Wednesday, April 1st.
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