At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, so much of the future was up in the air. This included the future of Lotus and Luna stateside and the livelihood of out artisans in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In an effort to keep our communities and loved ones safe, and contribute to the urgent need of PPE for Americans, we decided to repurpose our resources and create masks. We also wanted to give back to our communities and loved ones, which became our “One for One” donation program.
We never would have expected the kind of impact this decision made, nor the wild ride that was to follow.
We sat down with our founder and CEO, Janelle Sisting, and asked her to reflect on how our brand has evolved throughout the pandemic.
LOTUS AND LUNA- How did you come to produce and sell face masks?
It all started with the Artisans in Thailand. In February our artisans in Thailand warned us about coronavirus and saw the impact in Asia. Our artisans were worried that it could spread to the USA and sent us 100 face masks to give out to our office, family, and customers for protection.
Little did we know, this was the first step towards producing face masks and saving our business.
Fast forward a few weeks to mid March . . .
The pandemic hit in the USA. I did everything I could to keep my team employed and pay our expenses, but the numbers just didn’t add up. We had orders cancelling, a surplus of summer inventory, and retail partners who couldn’t pay their bills. Our main products were pants, headbands, kimonos, and jewelry, which we couldn’t sell-so we had a lot of extra raw materials- fabric, elastic, and beads.
At the end of March, we made the very hard decision to furlough 75% of our staff. I still remember hearing tears over the phone as I told each employee they no longer had hours and needed to file for unemployment. This was one of the hardest weeks of my life.
That following Saturday night, we assigned our artisans the task of creating a face mask sample using the excess materials they already had on hand; fabric and elastic from our apparel and hair accessories. I remember sitting in my living room at 3AM on a video chat with them thinking, “wow, has it really come to this?” Well, yes it had.
A few days later, the samples arrived in San Diego. We took some iPhone images of them, and put them up for sale online.
A few days later, we had sales we could’ve only dreamed about weeks before.
This led to months of chaos as we immediately rehired our team (furlough lasted 3 days) and worked around the clock to ship online orders. Our office was open 7 days a week, from 7am to 12am each night to comply with regulations while shipping as many orders as we could. We hired a customer service team, moved offices and well, to be frank, ran around like chickens with our heads cut off the entire summer.
We also did as much good as we could to help others. We haven’t had the time to share all of this with you yet, because our priority has been action, but the core of Lotus and Luna has always been giving back. In the past 6 months, we have sponsored food lines in Thailand, emergency survival bags for the poor, donated food, money and supplies to a school for the blind, and donated 175,000 face masks to 200 + organizations in the USA. We wanted to help protect the most vulnerable and share our resources with others.
How did you find the time and resources to also donate 175,000 masks to organizations around the country?
The soul of Lotus and Luna is giving back. As a new producer of masks that were suddenly needed for all Americans, we wanted to do everything we could to help as many people as possible. We decided that for every mask sold, we would donate a mask. We called local organizations and received lots of inquiries through our website. So far we have donated over 175,000 masks to schools, hospitals, police departments, churches, restaurants- 200+ organizations in the United States. This has been quite an impact on our small office!
How has the pandemic affected the team in Thailand?
Luckily, the demand for our new masks meant that we needed to actually hire more Lotus and Luna artisans to keep up! This was a very positive thing for so many of their friends and families who were left unemployed, due to the shut down of tourism.
However, tens of thousands of Thai people were not so lucky. The Thai people do not have the benefit of stimulus checks and loans from the government. The nation’s efforts to help its people came in the form of food donations. Each day the government gave out hot meals to hundreds of citizens who line up for their share. But every night the food runs out well before the whole line has been served. Over the past six months, Lotus and Luna has been sponsoring our own food donations in Chiang Mai in hopes of helping the people left empty handed.
In addition to the food donations, we provided many Thai people in rural areas with “Survival bags” that included essential items they could not afford such as hygienic products, food, and even cash. We made multiple donations to local orphanages and special needs schools, including a school for blind children.
Do you have any final thoughts to share with your customers?
YES! We haven’t had the time to share all of this with you until now, because our priority has been taking action, but each of you is part of this story. Your incredible impact is being felt around the world! As a company, we believe that by helping each other, we can make the world a better place. Thank you all so much for being part of it!