When the province was shutting down in its response to COVID-19, second-year Queen’s University student Joshua Sofer was catching up with his high school friend Matthew Danics. The York School graduates were discussing the importance of face masks and how difficult it had been to find affordable ones.
“Reading about how important face masks were in slowing the spread and flattening the curve, we determined that we should try and solve it,” Sofer says. “We had a lot of time on our hands, and we really wanted the challenge, so we said, ‘Why not?’ ”
Sofer and Danics had so much time on their hands because school had transitioned to an online model and, like many university students, Danics’ summer internship had been cancelled. This was, Sofer says, a major motivation behind the decision to start Canadian Face Masks.
The company offers a range of cotton face masks in different colours starting at $8.95. The organic mask is $11.95. Sofer says that, in their research, they found most masks were being sold at $12 to $95 each. They also donate one mask for every 10 organic masks sold to local volunteer organizations helping the COVID-19 efforts. So far, they’ve sold over 9,100 masks.
Sofer attributes the company’s success to its team. He mentions their head of educational materials, who is a health science student with experience working in hospitals, and a whole host of students managing marketing, sales and logistics.
For Sofer, finding an apparel company willing to produce the masks at the price point and level of quality they needed was the most challenging part, especially because he and Danics weren’t familiar with the industry.
“We had to learn all these terms, everything from Pantone colours to different textiles and textures,” he says. “I would say that was a steep learning curve because if you’re not able to talk to people, at least in this industry, it’s very prohibitive.”
After several days of searching, the pair found a Toronto-based manufacturer that was able to meet their needs. Sofer says they were in a unique position with Canadian Face Masks because of the demand they immediately faced once they got the company off the ground.
“We’ve hit this sort of high-growth segment that most businesses don’t tend to see, at least in their first year of operation,” he says.
Sofer also notes that being young students offers its perks.
“We’re all university students, we have a roof over our heads, we’re supported at this time, and so that’s allowed us to have this flexibility,” he says.