One of the biggest successes in fashion was born of modern necessity rather than simple sartorial desire: masks and face coverings. This item of clothing is one that all of us, in this age of mandated social distancing, are acutely more than familiar with (most places in Massachusetts actually require them), and Lidiya Romanchuk is the rare person who has found a way to transform this necessity into a billboard for self-expression.
This young, talented fashion student’s ingenuity is only matched by her relentless spirit in the pursuit of the craft she loves, and her sewing ability, it should be noted, could put Rumpelstiltskin to shame.
An immigrant from Ukraine, Romanchuk came to New England to nurture her talent for fashion design from some of the most prolific clothing stylists in the world at Boston’s School of Fashion Design. She won a few competitions at her school and one of her dresses earned the coveted spot of being out on display on Newbury Street. Her motto to every endeavor is always “if they tell me something is impossible, I’m on it!” Romanchuk said with a firm clap of her hands and a smile as bright as the full moon. Selling masks was not her goal, but like so many of us she adapted during these strange times and decided to create masks as a way to keep working in fashion as well as help others.
From the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, Romanchuk started making masks—for herself, her friends, and then later for those living in her condominium building. Many of the residents were elderly and needed to take extra protective measures. She distributed masks to every person in her residence free of charge. At this early stage, she hadn’t yet thought to turn this into a business.
As word started spreading through the Boston grapevine, Romanchuk got more orders and turned each new mask request into a training exercise. She was constantly seeking ways to improve the masks. No detail was too small to change, nor was any challenge too much for her. One of the most prominent things she added was sewing in extra design on the inlets of the mask’s interior, swapping out the blank space for vibrant and imaginative small designs to match the mask’s exterior. “It has to be better- whoever ordered this, please give me the feedback,” she says. “I have to have it as I need to improve.”
But Romanchuk never waited for feedback to make changes and implement innovations. Among those things she worked on were the best types of material for the interiors as well as the exteriors, which fabric allowed for comfortable and ease in breathing, as well as style. And then there are her custom “ear-ties” instead of a simple elastic strap. Another innovation are the zippers that she will sew in to allow people to drink from a straw without having to take their masks all the way off. She can even change up the fabric to allow for custom designs or logos, thanks to the team at the School of Fashion.
One of the more remarkable things about Romanchuk’s journey from design student to a mass producer of masks, is that she created all these phenomenal clothes with a broken sewing machine. One of the pieces allows for the lifting of the sewing needle, requiring pushing up with immense force to realign the direction of the sewing thread. Sending the sewing machine in for small but crucial repairs required losing out on the machine and her ability to sew for weeks, so she instead placed an order for a new machine rather than lose out on her chance to keep up the work she loved so dearly.
To fully appreciate Romanchuk’s attention to detail, you need look no further than the work she puts into the masks she makes for children. She has even ventured into printing superheroes on the cotton outer mask transforming the chore of wearing a mask into something young people enjoy doing.
Thousands of masks have been sewn and distributed by Romanchuk over the past five months. The early demand came from friends and social media, which allowed her to grow the business as she perfected her craft. And, that’s just fine with her. “It’s not about profit, profit comes along. You do good quality and spend more time, people will return,” says Romanchuk. “All my customers, many of them will come back three, four times.”
It’s no doubt people are returning to her because she treasures the process of her work as much as the end product. If masks as a fashion concept are just developing, Lidiya Romanchuk has proved herself a master in the art and a true boundary pusher in the fashion industry itself.
Photo credits-Lidiya Romanchuk