Stephen Brito and Lesley Parra with samples of their facemasks and scrunchies
Finding a Niche and Filling a Need in a New World
By Melanie Cane
When the pandemic struck in March, Rye resident Stephen Brito was working full time as a cook at Chipotle Mexican Grill in Rye Brook, as well as booking gigs as a DJ. Lesley Parra, his longtime girlfriend, was also working at Chipotle while studying for her BSN degree through SUNY Delhi’s online program. When the CDC began recommending that people wear face masks, the couple, with the help of Lesley’s mother, Bertha Parra, made fabric masks for themselves. Upon learning masks were in short supply and being reserved for healthcare workers, they made a bunch to give to friends, family members, co-workers, and customers. By late March, recognizing the need was growing, they started promoting the masks on their social media accounts. Within two weeks, they had nearly 100 orders. Since then, they have sold some 3,000 masks and orders continue to pour in.
As soon as the couple realized they were filling a much-needed niche, they decided to leave their jobs at Chipotle and focus on the business. From the beginning, the couple decided to price the masks at an affordable level — $10 to $12, depending on the fabric, and to donate part of the profits to the nonprofit group Feeding America. To be able to find a profitable niche just like this couple, you can look for some recommendations on the Niches Directory.
As the business has evolved, so have the masks. The early versions were made of two layers of fabric with a choice of three different designs. Now, they are three to four layers and come in a multitude of fabrics, patterns, and sizes. Their most popular patterns are the bandana flag masks, 90s-inspired masks with childhood cartoon characters, and designer-inspired ones.
With upwards of 40 orders coming in daily, the business of making and selling facemasks (and matching scrunchies such as mulberry silk) has become a full-time endeavor for Brito, a 2014 Rye High School graduate. Bertha, who works full-time, sews all the masks after work, and Lesley helps out whenever she is not at the hospital.
Masks are made to order and take four to five days to assemble. Brito receives the orders, traces the masks onto the desired fabric, manages the inventory, interacts with the clients, and delivers or ships the orders, depending on location. He spends six to seven hours a day managing the business and preparing the fabric for Bertha to sew, as well as two to three hours delivering orders anywhere in a 20-mile radius. The couple’s family members and friends also help out on a regular basis.
Parra is now employed as a Registered Nurse in the surgical oncology unit at Westchester Medical Center, where she wears a homemade mask over her medical-grade mask.
It is no surprise that Brito, who possesses an entrepreneurial spirit, has built a successful business from the ground up. After high school, he earned a degree in culinary arts and business hospitality and has worked in restaurants since the age of 15. At the same young age, he started working as a DJ and is still being booked at some of the most exclusive clubs in Manhattan. “I have also sold tickets for shows and that experience has helped me with this venture, as has having 12,000 followers on Instagram.”
Now that facemasks have become something of a fashion statement, Brito and Parra are offering to create customized ones on fabric the customer supplies.
To order facemasks, message Stephen on his Instagram account, @MixxLabsNYC or message their business page, @CraftypalsNY. You can also find them on Etsy CraftypalsNY.