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  • Coronavirus pandemic

image copyrightRuby Harry

While the easing of restrictions is great news for many small businesses, it means one group of people – those who have made and sold face masks in the past year – have to look for a new way to make money.

Lockdown came with a new swell of community spirit and many people turned to local and independent sellers for things such as masks.

A lot of entrepreneurs began making and selling them online, and doing good business as a result.

It's not the end of the road for masks just yet though – you'll still have to wear them in Scotland and on public transport in London, it's been announced, but it's unlikely to be the booming business it was six months ago.

So what next for the people who've made money selling them during the pandemic?

  • Should I still wear a mask after 19 July?

'I quit my job to do this full time'

At the start of lockdown, Amelia Terry's office job was cut down to three days a week.

It gave her time to reconsider. "I always wanted to set up my business, and that was an opportunity," she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

image copyrightAmelia Terry

Although normally based in Bristol, she was at her boyfriend's parents' house in the Lake District in the first lockdown, and had to order all the materials there.

"Luckily, they have a sewing machine. But I was in their living room and I just had stuff everywhere," she says.

"Looking back, it was so fun and kind of crazy that I just did that from their living room.

"I feel bit bad about it – I made an absolute mess."

After some trial and error, Amelia came up with the mask design and began advertising on her Instagram page and Etsy.

She was getting a few sales, but it wasn't until July 2020 that sales really took off.

"As soon as masks became compulsory and demand went up loads, that's when I realised: 'Actually, this is possible. It's not just a side project'."

Amelia sold about 600 masks in total, including to people in US, Australia and Canada.

image copyrightAmelia Terryimage captionThese are the homemade masks Amelia was selling

After a few months, she quit her main job to do it full time – but she knew the mask business wouldn't last forever.

By the time she set up full-time in January 2021, Amelia had stopped selling masks.

She's moved on to selling prints of untranslatable words with their English definitions, as well as wire flowers which you can send as gifts in the post.

While she now says her job satisfaction is so much higher, she admits there are some difficulties with starting a small business.

"It's so isolating when you're working for yourself, by yourself, and you don't talk to anyone. It's enough to go crazy."

image copyrightAmelia Terry

Amelia recently set up in a studio which she says has made things much easier.

"I'm in a communal working space now with a couple of other girls who are also set up there, which I love so much because we just bounce off each other.

"Just having that exposure to other people that are going through the same thing is so helpful."

But the 26-year-old is not done yet.

"Long-term, I'd like to get into set design. So hopefully just off this, I can build up a portfolio of things that I've made, and then hopefully build a career in that.

'My masks have ended up in museums'

Sunnie Delilah runs her own fashion and accessories business.

Many of her customers buy her products for weddings and big events – so when lockdown hit, her income dried up.

She started making regular face masks to order – but it was a conversation with her father-in-law which sparked her big idea.

"He was struggling as a turban wearer – and he's also got a long beard – with regular face masks. That's when he turned to me and asked if there was something that I could do to help him."

media captionThe plan to make one size fit all

Sunnie, 33, came up with a mask with a pocket for her father-in-law's beard as well as long straps to fit around his turban.

She shared the results on her company's social media pages.

"And then it kind of spread – to Germany, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. It was like, 'Oh my god, this is not just a UK problem, this is a worldwide thing'."

After featuring on the BBC last summer, demand for Sunnie's face masks jumped again, and she ended up hiring staff for the first time to help make the "thousands and thousands" of orders she got in.

"That was definitely a learning thing for me as a business, to go from just me in a studio to then having the full team of six people in a manufacturing site."

image copyrightSunnie Delilah

Now, although she still gets face mask orders, Sunnie's business has gone back to making accessories for weddings and parties.

"It was a bittersweet feeling… had I not created this, and had it not been the success that it was, I'm not sure if I would still be here now."

Sunnie's kept on the six staff members she hired as they go back to producing pre-pandemic products. She says that some of the customers who bought her face masks have come back for her other accessories.

image copyrightSunnie Delilah

Now, her masks have become part of the UK's pandemic history as they've been taken by museums including the Science Museum in London and Birmingham Museum.

She says it's "overwhelming" that her product could be shown to future generations who learn about coronavirus.

"It's overwhelming in terms of sales, but also in terms of the support that I received over the last year – and how people have really advocated what I've done.

"It's something that I'll never forget."

'I got government money to help start my business'

Ruby Harry graduated from her degree in fashion design at Cardiff Met last summer and was wondering what to do next.

She'd already lost her part-time job as a waitress during the lockdown.

"Getting a job within fashion is so competitive anyway," she tells Newsbeat.

"But getting a job within fashion in the pandemic was just impossible."

But as part of her course, Ruby had pitched a business – and was awarded £500 from the Welsh government and the EU.

She decided to use it to start making masks in June 2020.

image copyrightRuby Harry

Through word of mouth and social media, her profile spread quickly.

"I was making about 20 a day at one point, which was quite a lot for me," she says.

"In the evenings once I'd sewn them, I'd then go round and deliver them in my local area, or I would have to go to the Post Office and send them all."

Ruby reckons she's made about 2,000 masks overall, – and some have ended up in countries such as France, Germany and Canada.

"The first couple of months when I started, it was definitely like a full time wage. I was just amazed at how many people were supporting me through."

Ruby expanded to other accessories including scrunchies and bags.

image copyrightMark Harryimage captionRuby was inspired to make a dress based on the TV show Bridgerton

While she'd like to keep her business going, Ruby decided to take a full-time job as a stylist at a clothing company.

"I'm really enjoying that. I think people underestimate what running a business is like, there's so much hard work," she says.

"If I still did my masks full time now, I think I'd be really nervous because you won't have to wear them anymore.

"So I feel like my small business maybe wouldn't be enough to be a full time job."

But she still sews in her spare time for fun – recently making a dress inspired by the show Bridgerton.

"I like doing sewing projects like that. I just find them really fun to do. So watch TV shows or things that are trending at the moment and recreate them or do your own design."

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