Over the last few months influential figures, major brands and celebrities have joined the fight in combating the coronavirus pandemic by raising funds and donating much-needed supplies to frontline workers.
Many charitable efforts are springing up on social platforms, where fashion influencers with sizable followings are leveraging their platforms to do some good amid the ongoing crisis.
Two influencers launching these relief efforts are Serena Goh and Anthony Urbano, who teamed up this month to launch the Mask Fund initiative, a fund-raiser that’s helping get essential supplies to health-care workers in the U.S.
Through social media, word of mouth and the help of their influencer friends, they’ve linked with a larger network of independent fund-raisers in New York City and are working toward securing a 100,000 mask order.
The duo came together after Urbano shared an Instagram post about his mother, who works as a nurse at a New Jersey hospital experiencing a shortage of face masks.
“We had this one conversation that really scared me,” Urbano said during a phone interview from New York City. “[The hospital] was turning a lot of units into COVID-19 units and they weren’t prepared to handle it. I just remember I was so scared for her.”
Goh was one of the many friends who reached out to Urbano after seeing the post offering her help.
“I can’t imagine going into war and not having the proper tools,” Goh said in an interview from London, recalling how she felt when she connected with Urbano.
The fashion influencer, who has more than 250,000 Instagram followers and runs The Spicy Stiletto blog, wanted to help by providing Urbano’s mother with the essential supplies she and her coworkers needed. Goh’s father, who is based in Hong Kong, works as a venture capitalist in the medical field and has relationships with manufacturing facilities producing face masks in China.
Goh and Urbano launched a GoFundMe page on April 1 with their own funds for the Mask Fund initiative to purchase a large order of face masks from the supplier in China. They set up Facebook and Instagram pages and enlisted their fellow influencer friends to spread the word on social media.
In just under a month, the Mask Fund has received nearly $20,000 in donations and delivered its first order of 5,000 N95 face masks in mid-April to health-care workers in the New York area. It is now working on purchasing additional mask orders as well as orders of hospital gowns and goggles. The influencers are also looking to find ways to distribute masks outside of the U.S.
“So many of our friends who are influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers said, ‘this is such a good idea,’” Goh said. “They all wanted to be a part of it and just promote it for us. Especially the first few days when this was all launching, everyone was really involved and it was really heartwarming.”
Quickly after launching the Mask Fund, Goh was introduced to The Last Mile NYC, a group of roughly 15 independent fund-raisers all working to donate essential supplies to frontline workers. The Mask Fund has since joined forces with the group to pool their generated funds to purchase 100,000 masks for health-care workers in New York.
“We all came together and decided to do this because we didn’t want to be all these separate fund-raisers hiking up the prices of the protective equipment versus just coming together and putting in these massive orders,” Goh said.
Goh vets the masks to make sure they meet medical standards set by the Food and Drug Administration, then has them vetted again by a secondary resource. She works with a distribution center in Brooklyn that again evaluates the equipment and distributes them to health-care workers and hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. The distribution center can also send the masks to hospitals the Mask Fund directly wants to help, such as the New Jersey hospital Urbano’s mother works at.
“All the money, all the effort and all the fund-raising had a lot of heart behind it because we knew people personally that were affected by this,” he said. “It’s just blowing my mind how much people in the first day were donating and how powerful your own platform can be.”
Goh is also growing the fund-raising initiative by partnering with fashion brands including men’s shoe brand Ankari Floruss and accessories brand JW Pei, which are donating a portion of their sales to the Mask Fund.
The Mask Fund is just one of several influencer-led relief efforts that have launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chiara Ferragni was one of the first to use her platform to raise funds amid the crisis by launching a GoFundMe page benefiting Milan’s San Raffaele hospital in early March, which has since generated nearly 4.5 million euros in donations. Fashion influencer Brittany Xavier is also giving back by donating 3-D printed ear guards — which make wearing masks more comfortable — to health-care workers across the country.
As Goh and Urbano have focused their attention on growing the Mask Fund, they’ve also adjusted their social media content to be mindful of how their followers are being impacted by the pandemic.
“It’s so important right now to not be a tone-deaf influencer,” Goh said, who’s mainly been posting recipes and outfit photos from inside her London apartment. “I’ve always been conscious of what content I put out, but these days I’m much more open to the community and I’m gravitating toward speaking to [my followers] more because we are in this time where it’s really hard to find human-to-human contact.”
Urbano shares a similar view on how he’s adjusting his content by refraining from posting any travel photos and instead posting outfit photos from inside his apartment.
“Now more than ever, there is a growing appetite for content that tells meaningful stories,” said Beca Alexander, founder and president of Socialyte, an influencer marketing agency. “With the exponential increase of social media usage right now, followers are looking for content that educates, motivates, entertains, connects and inspires.”
As the influencers continue navigating the changes presented by the pandemic, they remain focused on their charitable initiative, growing the Mask Fund to continue helping frontline workers.
“When we started we thought it would be such a basic transaction,” Goh said. “Now it’s become full cycle into this monster of life, which is amazing. It’s a lot of work but it’s really amazing to see so many people come together.”
Read more here:
WATCH: How the Fashion Industry Is Fighting the Coronavirus