Houston fashion designer ready for retail to reopen during COVID-19 pandemic

Portions of the state are preparing to reopen for business this week.

It’s part of Governor Greg Abbott’s multi-phase plan to get the Texas economy back up and running.

Starting Monday, state parks will reopen to the public with face mask and social distancing guidelines still intact. On Wednesday, non-essential surgeries and procedures can resume. Lastly, on Friday, retailers can begin offering pick-up or home deliveries to customers. 

RELATED: Next steps for Texas: Gov. Abbott says state to reopen economy in stages

Local high-fashion designer, Chloe Dao, is now brainstorming innovative ways to enrich the customer curbside shopping experience. 

Dao first rose to national prominence after winning Project Runway’s second season nearly 15 years ago.  

Since then, the native Houstonian has been making high-fashion gowns and formal dresses at her namesake boutique in Rice Village. But last month, her staple product became face masks, instead. 

"When you hear so many needs out there, you really can’t take a break. You’re mentally and emotionally stressed from trying to really keep people healthy. 

RELATED: Houston businesses, organizations help keep kids fed during COVID-19 crisis

"It was kinda sad how many cancer patients contacted us, elderly caretakers, nurses and doctors were all coming in looking for masks because they were having to reuse them," Dao said. 

Early on, Dao recognized the need to help first responders and health workers operating on the front lines with depleting PPE supplies. She begin hand-cutting and hand-sewing masks non-stop with all the fabric she had in stock.

She’s donated a total of roughly 3,000 masks so far and has now begun selling them online to keep her small business alive. 

"For two weeks straight I was still paying my staff and I was pretty much fronting the costs of all the donated masks. Then I realized, holy crap I have payroll coming up and I really didn’t make any money for two weeks," Dao said. 

"The masks have a pocket, so it’s two-layered. One layer is all across then I created a filter pocket section where you can decide to fill it with whatever filter you can find. We’re selling them at $12 to $18. Do we make profit from it? Yeah a little, but honestly the money goes back to making the donation masks," Dao continued. 
    
This coming Friday, per Governor Abbott’s orders, Dao will be able to offer retail-to-go and home delivery, after having to close her boutique last month.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect as prom and graduation season inch closer. 

Dao’s already been brainstorming innovative ways to enrich the customer curbside shopping experience. 
    
"It's a great saving for our clients who are buying our fashion masks. They can come pick up. That’s a huge benefit for us. I don’t know how they’re going to try on clothes curbside, but maybe we’ll have a pop-up dressing room outside," Dao said. 

Fortunately, Dao has not had to lay off any staff. She actually hired an extra sewer to help meet the demand for masks. 

Up next, Dao said she may begin sewing medical scrub caps after receiving several email requests. 

Dao said she hopes the retail-to-go option will help keep her business strong as she hopes to continue donating hundreds of masks every week.