If you’ve been trying to buy attractive, reusable masks online, chances are you’ll have found that most of them are sold out. So hats off to popular entertainer Todd McKenney who has established a new website called TODD MASKS so that Australian costume designers who are currently out of work due to the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, can sell masks they have made directly to the public. Designers participating include Jennifer Irwin who has worked for Bangarra Dance Theatre, The Australian Ballet, Opera Australia and Sydney Theatre Company, and Erin Roche whose credits include the television series How to Stay Married, The Wrong Girl, Sisters and The Beautiful Lie.

Jennifer IrwinCostume Designer Jennifer Irwin

“We simply cannot sit by as these talented people are forced to leave the industry due to a lack of work. Stage and screen will thrive again one day, and I am committed to helping my fellow artists anyway that I can. This is all for them, and is made with love and thanks for helping make me look great all these years!” said McKenney.

McKenney is a supporter of The Grace Centre for Newborn Intensive Care at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney and so the website will also host an online auction of one-of-a-kind masks to raise funds for the hospital. He spoke to Limelight about TODD MASKS.

Todd McKenney. Photograph supplied

When and how did the idea for TODD MASKS come about?

I was thinking about ways to help our fellow creative industry colleagues and realised that the need for masks would be a great way for costume makers and designers to be able to pivot their businesses to try and make the best out of our industry standstill. Then it was down to planning how to create a space where they could access an online marketplace that was already built and would get them over the hurdle of the initial setup costs and the time it takes to start selling online.

How many costumes designers did you approach initially?

The designers who we are currently working with are Jennifer Irwin and Erin Roche. They were the two designers who we initially approached along with one other who was already so flat out making masks that she couldn’t jump on in time for the launch. We also have a designer/seamstress called Jan Davidson in Sydney who was referred by friends who has been making masks for months and who is one of the primary sellers on the site now.

Is there a limit to the number of designers that can offer masks for sale on the platform?

The only limit is how quickly we can get them onto the site! We are a tiny little team and in order to keep the costs to an absolute minimum we are really doing all of the work ourselves. Any designer or costume maker in Australia who makes masks to the current regulations is invited to be part of the TODD MASKS family.

Will you check the quality of the masks before agreeing to a designer selling them via the platform?

We are being really strict on quality control so there’s a bit of backing-and-forthing with the sellers which is also a nice way to get the vibe of the artistic community at the moment. We aren’t able to view the masks in person as there are hygiene concerns, and the designers are completely in charge of the relationship with the buyer, but we are approving all products manually and checking all designs before they are approved.

Does the profit go directly to the costume designers?

Absolutely. There’s an admin fee to cover the costs and the Paypal charges but that’s it. We might look at paid partnership opportunities down the track, but the selling platform is here to service the industry’s need.

Alongside that, there are the online auctions to support The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. How long have you been a supporter of The Grace Centre?

I’ve been supporting The Grace Centre for three years now and I feel like part of the Westmead family. I’m totally blown away by the passion and commitment of everyone at The Grace Centre for Newborn Intensive Care and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, which both operate from The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Whenever I can raise money for them I do.

Will the auctions be on-going – in other words when one-off masks are sold via auction will they be replaced by new ones?

We are actively reaching out to members of the community and inviting them to create bespoke costume pieces for the auctions. We don’t have a budget so we are really mindful that they are donating them out of kindness (we are talking to you here Jennifer Irwin – thank you!) and we don’t want to place any additional pressure on people. The designs we have received so far are amazing which is wonderful and we are so grateful to those who have donated. Just so, so kind.

TODD MASKS can be found here