With their company Skydive Yosemite shuttered due to Covid 19, Paul and Julia Wignall are making masks to help prevent the spread of the virus.
At first the orders trickled in, three masks for a family in Long, Beach, California. Then came an order for 10 for nurses in Sacramento. The next day the Sacramento nurse’s order doubled to 20. The following day the orders were up to 30. “These nurses said they were the best-looking masks they’ve seen,” mask designer Julia Nish Wignall said. One nurse told Julia, “these help us get through the hot mess we’re in.”
In a message to Julia, the nurse continued, “We have to wear these our whole shift, unless we’re working with Covid 19 patients, then we wear the N95’s. We use these to preserve our primary masks.”
It’s now March 29, and as of 8:00 pm PST, there have been 722,196 cases of the novel Coronavirus worldwide, with nearly 34,000 deaths. With nearly 50% of Americans on lockdown, including towns surrounding Yosemite shuttered — Yosemite National Park is closed —everyone is doing what they can to endure this difficult time.
This includes Julia, co-owner of Skydive Yosemite out of Mariposa, a town of 2,173 and home to dozens of longtime Yosemite climbers. She and her husband, who’ve called Yosemite Valley and, more recently, Mariposa home since 1996, are doing what they can to bring in income and also help their community.
“Additional orders are coming in from our friends in New York, San Diego, L.A., and San Francisco,” Julia continued. “Cities where people need masks, including nurses.”
Paul and Julia are former Yosemite concession workers who spent their late teens and 20s working hourly jobs within the Park so they could climb, hike, and be part of the community. Julia’s previous jobs in Yosemite include lifeguard and cocktail waitress. She did these jobs while going to fashion design school. Paul was a maintenance worker for the concessionaire before he got “discovered” as a young-looking Paul Newman and overnight became a high fashion model. He traded his small canvas cabin in the Park for apartments in New York and Milan.
Before running a skydiving company, Paul and Julia worked in the fashion world. Julia has a degree in fashion design. Paul is the former number three male model in the world. He’s had campaigns with Gucci, worked with Valentino. (Check out the YouTube video Paulander. The video says he was the inspiration for Blue Steel in the film Zoolander.)
“I used to be good looking,” Paul joked while holding his three-month-old girl. Highlights from Paul’s career include hanging out with Boy George at the Versace mansion and making it on the cover of fashion icon Mario Testino’s book. After his modeling career, Paul started the contemporary fashion business MatteBlack.
From 2005 to 2010, Paul and his brother Matt ran MatteBlack, and Julia worked designing clothes as well as knitwear made of alpaca fibers. Now, with their skydive company closed, they’re dusting off their sewing machines and selling their masks on their Skydive Yosemite website. They’re calling them “Bandido” masks after their Spanish water dog.
After clothing design, they started the cooking show Camp 4 Cooking, before transitioning to skydiving. Paul, who has been practicing the sport since 2008, has more than 9,000 skydives under his belt; Julia 85.
Skydive Yosemite offers tandem jumps for anyone who wants to see the Park from the sky, then jump out of a plane at 14,000 feet while staring down at El Capitan. Mariposa nominated their two-year-old business “Local Adventure Company of the Year.”
But as Covid 19 has spread, and shelter in place has become the norm, their bookings have been canceled.
“I’m selling these masks and other designs to help keep our business and family afloat during this difficult time,” Julia wrote on Instagram. They have a five-year-old and a three-month-old. Continued Julia, “I planned on designing again, so what better time than now, right? I can feel better about doing something to help control Covid-19 so we can all move past this and get back to our lives. Let me know if you are interested in buying one.”
Of one recent order, she wrote, “10 masks headed off to some nurses here in California working tirelessly for us. They were told to make masks themselves due to the shortage we are having. What nurses have time for that?
“These are made with a pocket on the inside so people can slip in their own polypropylene mask to make it bomber!”
The masks are made of organic cotton and cotton blends (like linen) and are made to wear every day. They’re machine washable.
Men’s 9” x 7.5”
Women’s 9” x 6”
Kid’s 7” x 5”
Each one is $15.00 ($21.10 Canadian)
“If you work in the medical field, I’m offering a discount,” Julia said.