Victor Cruz and Ariana Martinez-Cruz of Sew Frisco at Dolores Park, where they first met in 2007. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Sew Frisco: Makers on a Mission

Ariana and Victor Cruz are making face masks as fast as they can

Ariana and Victor Cruz are making face masks as fast as they can: Their business Sew Frisco, specializing in handmade, San Francisco-centric wearable accessories, has temporarily shifted focus as the COVID-19 crisis and requirements that residents wear face coverings, demand it.

“It’s part of our mission to match every order with a donation,” said Ariana whose first round of 250 masks, made from properly sanitized and colorful cotton fabric, yielded 250 donations to delivery persons, food bank personnel and other essential service workers. Another round of masks is in the pipeline for sale and donation.

“We saw this coming,” said Ariana of the current pandemic-related economic downturn. With Victor she also runs her father’s residential and professional cleaning service, its customer-base hotels and other businesses reliant on the tourist trade .

“We have a lot of work at Fisherman’s Wharf we’re hoping will come back,” said Victor.

“We still have some regular power washes, but it’s surreal to see downtown, Sutter and Powell, boarded up,” said Ariana whose father was in the trade for over 30 years. She and Victor took over his business two years ago.

Following the early signs of shutdown, “We were still hopeful for a return to normalcy,” said Ariana, her sewing studio at that time still humming in preparation for Carnaval, one of the City’s biggest annual public events. She assists with costuming the youth contingent of Loco Bloco, dedicated to passing on Afro-Latino cultural traditions, but as postponements were announced, and Ariana learned more about the coronavirus, she also heard from a friend working in New York’s health care system.

“She told me there was a need for people who sew to make masks,” said Ariana who began to research patterns and pull the right kinds of cotton from her fabric stock. But it was the waste from disposable masks dotting the streets and floors of grocery stores that really convinced her it was time to take action.

“I thought we should see what we can do to stay busy and stay positive,” she said. “My father taught us perseverance.”

Victor took the lead in rearranging the studio, stabilizing work stations and sanitizing surfaces; Ariana reached out to her wider sewing community, the quilters, cutters, and fabric specialists who were sharing material and tips, like the proper length of elastic for straps, and lining with solids to save the supply of more interesting patterns for the outside of the masks.

“Seeing Ariana late nights cutting, pinning, then sewing, encouraged me to learn” he said. “At first, I tried my best not to ruin her projects,” he joked. “She’d always say, it’s ok, it’s fixable. I learned to measure twice, cut once.”

He welcomed the chance to learn a new skill, something to do with his hands.

“My abuelita used to sew, my mom used to sew, it’s a lost art,” he said “It pushed my well being to learn, this isn’t just a girl thing. You can make someone’s day with something hand sewn and stitched with love,” said Victor.

Ariana had also first learned to sew at home, “My tia and my grandma sewed and I wanted to be part of it,” she said. Sewing became her escape when her parents divorced. She took community classes and excelled. “I made a backpack and a pair of shorts,” she said. Today, Sew Frisco offers workshops – now online – to make sewing accessible and affordable for local youth.

The San Francisco-raised couple’s own love story began with a meeting set up by a friend in their neighborhood spot, Dolores Park in 2007. As Victor reminisced, Ariana’s sewing machine whirred in the background.

“The energy was just really great between us,” he said, still shy but smitten, though the timing was off: Ariana was studying at the Fashion Institute while working nights at Mitchell’s Ice Cream. Victor was about to leave his job at Valencia’s Herbivore.

“I was on a spiritual quest,” he said, on his way to Florida. When they ultimately reconnected in 2008, again at Dolores Park, it was for real.

“We’re a strong partnership, a full partnership,” said Ariana. The couple shares responsibility for keeping their children, one in kindergarten, the other in fourth grade, on track with virtual school. Victor gave Ariana her first embroidery machine as a gift a few Christmases ago. They work together on several machines, weaving Sew Frisco’s series of patches, shouting-out street names and neighborhoods.

“We’re hoping the pop-ups and art markets come back” said Ariana of the suspended seasonal live events, though sales continue through their website. Their newest design is a super-localized black or brown fabric mask with orange embroidery spelling out SFC, hip hop slang for City of San Francisco: the Sucka Free City. Each mask is sewn with a pocket for an air filter to be inserted.

With last week’s announcement that face coverings are required in The City, and news that residents of the Mission and Bayview-Hunter’s Point are disproportionately impacted by the virus, masks are necessities rather than luxuries.

UCSF med student Fabian Fernandez with the Mission’s free Clínica Martín Baró confirmed the CDC’s guidelines that medical grade masks are best while cloth masks are recommended in confined spaces where social distancing is difficult to maintain, especially in “areas with significant community-transmission.” But he and his medical colleagues have further concerns about masks.

“The real concern is our communities being policed,” said Fernandez. “With or without masks, I hope law enforcement will consider we are in the midst of a pandemic.”

The Cruz’s have their own concerns for their children, their elders and their immediate community.

“Protect yourself and know your rights,” said Victor. “You can have cannabis as a social thing, but passing it around can’t be a priority right now. Cooperate when the law approaches. Stay positive in these circumstances,” he said.

Ariana hopes her whimsical fabric creations will encourage mask-wearing.

“It might seem forced or silly or unnecessary or too much fuss but it’s better that we don’t have to worry if we’re going to bring it home,” she said. “The mask is protection for all of us.”

Denise Sullivan is an author, cultural worker and editor of “Your Golden Sun Still Shines: San Francisco Personal Histories & Small Fictions.” She is a guest columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Follow her at www.denisesullivan.com and on Twitter @4DeniseSullivan.

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