Q&A: Second Wind Founder Karen Perez On Reimagining the Future of Face Masks

Masks are the most coveted accessory of 2020. But who are we kidding, though. Masks are here to stay for the long run, as experts weigh in on the impact face coverings will have in our lives for years to come. 

In March 2020, as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised people to wear face coverings, everyone scrambled to make due with whatever materials they could get to craft their own masks. Factories scrambled to make 20 times as many surgical and N95 masks as they regularly make to meet demand. 

For stylist Karen Perez, founder of Second Wind, masks provided an opportunity to start over. “I thought, why don’t I come up with a mask that would actually feel more like you want to wear it?” Perez says. “Something that’s an actual statement piece.”

She looked for inspiration in the women in her life – friends, family, and clients. All of them assured her they’d want to wear a face mask that was breathable, comfortable, and stylish. The result was Perez’s now infamous – and Instagram famous – face mask that hugs the bottom part of the face in a feminine silhouette accessorized by a chunky gold chain. 

The masks quickly became a hit. Even Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez caught the trend, paying a visit in August to Second Wind’s office in New York City. So far, the brand has released three face mask designs – Tina, Marina, and Janie – selling out their stock in the first few months of business. 

Emperifollá caught up with Perez to discuss the future of face masks, how she created a business in a week, and what it means to be a Latina business owner in a pandemic. 

Karen Perez. Image courtesy of The Bonita Project.

Emperifollá: It’s been a whirlwind for your brand since launch, what has the process been like?

Karen Perez: I did my launch in June as a small business and quickly on in July, when we had a lot of attention right away, we had to basically turn artists in business into an actual functional small business that has to employ people to sew, to work with marketing graphics. So basically, in a period of seven days since the news broke of my business, I had to turn it into a functional business in seven days.

I’m happy to say that I’m able to employ eight sewers. I have one full time employee with me. We are working with our factory which is based in New York. And we are also working with one in New Jersey and hopefully one in California. So we are definitely growing. We are also looking to expand to other categories as an accessory brand. 

E: Why did you name it Second Wind?

KP: I thought because of the current state that we’re in, we needed a boost to start over, like recharge. And that’s when I thought of, “What’s something that reminds me of recharging?” We like being energized and starting over. People are exhausted from the pandemic. People are staying indoors and figuring out their lives. It is exhausting, actually, even though people aren’t doing much, but it’s mentally exhausting, and trying to figure out how am I going to provide for work and how am I going to start a new career. So I thought this is my second wind and this is everyone’s second wind– in a way.

E: Latinx communities have been heavily impacted by the pandemic, what does it mean for you to come up with a business that can better their lives?

KP: Most of the people in our community are essential workers and farm workers and people that are needed and they’re not getting the praise and the attention that they need. So, you know, the majority of our community, unfortunately, is suffering through it with contracting the virus. So I thought it was my responsibility to also show that someone like me that’s relatable, that comes from a small community in New Jersey can come up with something. 

I thought of it as a passion project and then hoping that it would turn into something. After my mask got into the news, I also saw it as an opportunity to speak up and to not let any person or even big corporation stand in your way and just keep moving forward and being able to have that kind of platform. I feel like there is a responsibility for me to uphold, you know, as a Latina business owner.

Frances Solá-Santiago

Born in Puerto Rico, based in New York City. She is the editor-in-chief on Emperifollá. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, Glamour Magazine, Numéro, Refinery29, Remezcla, and Bustle.

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