"PERFECTLY POSITIONED FOR COVID-19"
When the coronavirus hit, former Maui businesswoman Danielle Travis was already ready.
Launched in 2016, Travis’ startup travel health company, The Barrier Method, was ahead of the curve, producing reusable cloth face masks to combat the spread of everyday germs found in crowded airports and airplanes.
“It’s been really crazy, you know, I definitely didn’t see this coming. I was hoping for the slow growth option, but all of a the sudden COVID hit, and we just sold out literally in a day or two,” said Travis, who now lives on Oahu to support her career. “The demand has been insane. It’s good, but definitely very different. I’m learning a lot still, but I’m just very busy.”
When Travis founded The Barrier Method, it grew moderately through word of mouth and social media. The fabric used is called Chitosante, which is extracted from crab or shrimp shells, and creates a biodegradable, nontoxic and antibacterial polyester.
This material helps to combat odors caused by bacteria and is breathable, environmentally friendly and contains UPF 50 sun protection properties.
The reusable and washable masks are designed and manufactured in Honolulu by local seamstresses with larger quantities produced in California.
When COVID-19 began rapidly spreading and personal protection equipment demand skyrocketed, her face masks sold out in late February. Travis said she needed to create an online preorder list while waiting for more shipments of masks.
“It’s very rewarding that people are enjoying their masks, but it’s also very stressful just because people are waiting, and I totally understand that,” she said in an interview Monday. “I totally understand the frustration, but I know that communicating with my customers is number one.”
Now that masks have become the “new normal,” and in many instances, required for entry and travel, sales have grown roughly 200 to 300 percent. Orders jumped from 1,500 to about 2,800 in the past couple months with the average customer buying about two masks per order.
Before the pandemic forced businesses to close, The Barrier Method products also were sold in stores at The Maui Ocean Center and the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort.
Travis said she’ll deliver more masks to the retailers once doors open again, but for now, all products are available online.
“I just want everyone to have a mask,” she said. “My customers are being so patient, and it’s pretty incredible how thankful they are, you know, and it’s so rewarding when they receive their product, and everyone is wearing it around town now. They’re running errands and things like that.”
There are an assortment of colors and patterns to choose from, she said, varying in a scarf-style Winged Mask and tube-style Neckie Mask for men, women and children. Prices for most masks run between $50 and $65.
The company recently launched a simple “just the mask” with an insert for a filter for essential workers and first responders, which will soon be available to the general public, she said.
Her idea is to create as many designs as possible to meet the fashion needs of each community.
“With any outfit, you’re going to want to expand your collection,” she said. “Restaurants are going to be opening up soon. We may have to wear masks while we’re inside, and you know, some people who are fashion forward may want to match their outfit with their mask, and the colors that we have offer a spectrum of bright tones and even some that are more subdued.”
The Barrier Method also sells hand sanitizer and antibacterial travel-size towelettes, as well as organic Nose Goop — composed of organic olive oil and lavender essential oils — to rub in and around the nose to create a germ barrier when a mask has to be temporarily pulled down while eating or passing through TSA, for example.
As a polo player who traveled frequently for tournaments, Travis said she found herself frequently getting sick after sitting on long congested flights. Her initial goal with The Barrier Method was to combat the spread of germs during air travel and to help passengers feel confident and secure about their health and safety while on any flight or in any airport.
But she didn’t know how essential her masks were going to be in everyday life amid the COVID-19 pandemic and into the economic recovery phase.
“Now we’re hanging our masks on our rearview mirror because we can’t go anywhere without them, we can’t go into businesses without wearing them, which is crazy,” she said. “Traveling will never be the same, wearing a mask is going to be required on all airlines, which is honestly a dream come true for me.”
When Travis first started the product line, she also had the goal to destigmatize the curious “looks and glares” while wearing a mask.
“We don’t have to worry about that anymore, it’s just the norm,” she said. “Ever since I’ve created the product and started wearing it on the airplane, it just keeps me healthy every time I travel. It’s like my security blanket.”
For more information and updates about the products, visit thebarriermethod.com or follow the company’s Instagram @thebarriermethod.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.