Hello friends! Hope you and your loved ones are as happy and safe as possible during these difficult times. We have some exciting news we wanted to share with you!
Last month, like many other small businesses during this pandemic, we had to temporarily shut down our business as fairs and events that are our main venues were canceled one after another. After the lockdowns in NY and NJ were imposed and the severity of the situation became apparent to us, we decided to devote our abundant time and less abundant resources to do what we can to help our community.
Besides organizing a small group of friends to fund and buy supplies and food for homeless shelters in our neighborhood, we have been working for weeks to figure out the logistics of importing meaningful quantities of one of the most needed and under-supplied tools in the fight against COVID-19: FACE MASKS. Our goal is to use our network and collaborate with individuals to donate masks and other needed supplies to charitable organizations helping those most vulnerable during this pandemic.
And yes! This is all very new to us as we are just a tiny floral home decor shop. Masks are certainly not our forte, nor is import/export! But we know they’re important so we are trying our best with the resources we have to help.
HOW WE GOT HERE
In the beginning, before the CDC revised its stance to start recommending the general use of face masks by the public, we had heard from both the media and friends in the medical community that hospitals in our area were running desperately low on PPE, especially N95 and other medical masks. So we reached out to our contacts in Vietnam to see if it was possible to import masks from there. We quickly found out that Vietnam, like many other countries worried about their own outbreaks, had put a general ban on the export of any medical masks. However, we did find a reliable manufacturer that produces washable fabric masks (with an antimicrobial treatment), tested and vetted by various domestic agencies, that could still be exported, albeit with complicated and ever-changing restrictions.
At this point, we had done enough research to realize hospitals probably couldn’t make use of these masks except as a last resort during an emergency. But there are many other organizations just as much on the frontlines such as homeless shelters that are desperately looking for face masks of any kind, both for their staff and volunteers, and for the people they’re helping. By then, the CDC had also changed their recommendation, and NY and NJ had both implemented varying requirements for general use of face masks, so this was only going to become a more and more urgent issue.
There were still many obstacles: the manufacturer’s minimum order size that was much too big for us to handle alone, the reluctance of local government and hospitals to officially buy masks that are not specifically rated N95, and the frequently changing customs requirements of exporting masks from Vietnam as well as importing them to the United States, among others. But after weeks of negotiation, we were able to convince the manufacturer to make an exception to their minimum order size for us since we were buying with the intent to donate, removing the biggest of those obstacles. So without any guarantees, we decided to take our blind plunge into the world of import/export and placed our first order.
Well, after a week of holding our breath (not literally) and constantly checking tracking, we just received our first shipment of masks today (4/27/2020)! We can’t wait to get these masks onto the faces of those who need them!
WHY THROUGH BELLA’S BLOOM?
There are a few reasons we are doing this through BB rather than personally. First, we found our manufacturer in Vietnam, and during our conversations with them, our shipper, and our other contacts in Vietnam, it was clear that for whatever bureaucratic reason it would be easier to clear customs if the buyer was a business and not an individual. Second, and more importantly, while we are devoting what financial resources we can to this project, it has grown a bit bigger than we originally planned. So we’d like to use BB to help fund these masks, to keep bringing in more masks to donate to those who need them. To that end, we will be selling a limited quantity of these masks through our website, of which all profits will go back to funding this project!