A few weeks ago, the Los Angeles-based fashion brand The Mighty Company began making protective face masks in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Shimmering and woven with bright strips of fabric, the masks have since become a staple in our outwear wardrobe—and for a few good causes, too.
For every mask purchased, The Mighty Company is donating one to The Midnight Mission homeless shelter. Additionally, the brand is donating 20 percent of all sales from its collection to Feeding America until further notice.
While The Mighty Company’s founder Jessie Willner is battling the pandemic like the rest of us, she’s finding things to be joyful about and hopeful for. She’s currently celebrating the launch of kids’ and men’s collections; she’s reading, writing, and listening to lots of music; and she’s being environmentally and economically responsible by producing masks with deadstock fabrics.
Whitewall spoke with Willner to hear more about The Mighty Company and its initiatives, and how art has always been her saving grace.
WHITEWALL: Tell us a bit about The Mighty Company.
JESSIE WILLNER: I started the brand because I wanted to make things that would last a lifetime and accompany you through the greatest memories of said lifetime. That led to the jacket, because of its evergreen quality throughout the decades. I wanted to take a classic piece like that and turn it out-of-the-ordinary. My intention was to design pieces to let the wearer show the best bits of their inside on the outside, to let them wear their inner brilliance on their sleeve—literally.
WW: Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with art, and how it impacts your fashion label?
JW: Art replaced a lot of my normal schooling growing up. By my own fault, I didn’t really have a typical education and art always plastered that. My mother, grandmother, and aunt were all different types of artists and each had an enormous influence on me. I was very lucky to be surrounded by so much creativity from these amazing women at a young age. This gave me the deep-seated belief that your real value comes from what you create out of nothing, not a monetary value of the material possessions you’re able to claim as yours.
As I grew up and reveled in teenage rebellion and its misdeeds, I was never punished with a prohibition of art. It was the one thing my family never restricted. They believed that was what would pull me through. It did. I got sober, 13 years ago this August, and making things is what has always kept my racing mind content.
That history influenced everything when it came to starting the company and building the product. Since I had no background in business, I always placed the highest importance on the collection itself rather than profit or margins. However, you won’t have a business for long if you don’t find a marriage of the two, so my solution was to fervently build direct-to-consumer at the start. Doing that allowed us to not compromise the high quality of materials, as we didn’t have the markups of wholesale. Then we grew the brand until production was smarter (i.e. much larger in volume), which allowed us to expand to retailers.
WW: How are you doing today amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
JW: I’m okay! I’ve gone through some ups and downs with family-related scares, but things have evened out. I’m a workaholic and I’ve been so busy since we launched the masks. We didn’t expect this enthusiastic of a reaction and we’ve had to respond accordingly.
The strangest thing is that I’ve sometimes felt guilty sharing joyful things during this time, because there’s so much grief that we’re all intermittently feeling, but joy is what always pulls us through the grief. Isn’t it? I’m trying to react with my usual M.O. of dealing with things: finding color in the darkness.
WW: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Mighty Company began making masks for purchase made from recycled fabrics. Tell us a bit about this.
JW: We’re based in L.A., and at the beginning of April, Mayor Garcetti issued an order that mandated all residents to wear face coverings in public. Some of our friends and family had already been asking if we were making masks to buy, but that mandate made us move into action.
It also put something else into our minds—Los Angeles’ large homeless population. What would people with little to no resources be doing? Access to face masks had been hard enough for someone with normal access, with universal wait times increasing for online suppliers and many people Googling at-home tutorials in the interim.
WW: Tell us a bit about partnering with The Midnight Mission—a homeless shelter in DTLA that’s been helping the community since 1914.
JW: We called The Midnight Mission in Downtown L.A. and they said they were in desperate need of both reusable and disposable masks. We decided to use our resources to make twice as many masks, making one for them for every one we sold.
The next step was mobilizing production locally, as we had to be very specific about the recommended safety protocols. We scoured our fabric archives and found every fabric that would work.
We made enough to last what we thought would be a conservative two-week period. We sold out within 30 hours, with most of the colors selling out the first night. Our waitlist exceeded our next production limit before we could even complete the first round. We spent the next week establishing wider production so we could continuously produce based on the demand.
WW: You’re also donating 20% of all purchases to Feeding America? Tell us a bit about this.
JW: While it feels right for us as a small business to figure out ways to sustain ourselves through this time and continue to provide employment to our staff, it feels wrong to do so without simultaneously giving to something that’s more of an imminent threat. We decided to donate 20 percent of all proceeds from our collection sales to Feeding America for the indefinite future.
WW: Four years ago, The Mighty Company made a series of metallic fabrics at Malhia Kent, and today, those deadstock fabrics are being to make the masks. Tell us a bit about this.
JW: We wanted to create something that was extremely functional—that was both comfortable and easy to take on and off to encourage wear.
All the fabrics for the first release were from a series of metallic fabrics we made at renowned French mill Malhia Kent for one of our first collections four years ago. Some of the fabrics made at that time never went to full production, but they were so special we swore to save them for something meaningful. Here we are.
WW: How are you personally staying inspired? What are you reading, listening to, cooking, or watching?
JW: Reading: Usually I read every night before bed, but lately I’ve been writing instead. I’ve been compiling all these poems and letters I’ve written, spanning from age sixteen to now, under a heading called “Letters I Can Never Send.” It’s weirdly cathartic.
Listening to: I just pulled up my current top played artists to answer this and they are: Will Smith, Pink Sweat$, The Beatles, H.E.R., Raye, Drake, Taylor Swift, King Princess, Jens Lekman, Lizzo, and Radiohead. I guess that’s what my brain sounds like right now.
Cooking: Not to be an outcast here, but I’m the worst cook! Only because I don’t do it! But a couple Sundays ago, I baked a cake for the first time in my life. It was for my mom and I wrote her a message in sprinkles on top. That was an accomplishment for me.
Watching: I’m obsessed with “Bosch.” He’s my fictional character crush. I just finished Season 6 and now I’m restarting it all from Season 1 because I couldn’t deal with it being done.