A few months ago, Saba Tshibaka was a fashion enthusiast and entrepreneur determined to combat the “fast fashion” trend of cheap, disposable clothing. But since the coronavirus pandemic struck, the University of Maryland senior has pivoted to helping people find alternatives to the throwaway garb of the moment: face coverings. 

Tshibaka, who founded Rendered Inc. in 2018 as a hub for selling high-quality, lightly used threads from local thrift stores and consignment shops, did more than learn to sew masks from YouTube; she also created FacemaskDC, a website map and directory that connects people needing masks with small businesses making them. Websites for Maryland and Virginia are scheduled to debut tomorrow, Tshibaka said.

Saba Tshibaka posing next to Testudo statue“It’s supporting local economies and supporting people with quality masks,” she said.

Tshibaka, a Silver Spring native who plans to graduate in December and is majoring in philosophy, politics and economics, has spoken individually to each of the more than 30 makers included on the website and was provided with pictures that show they are actually producing what they are selling.

“I wanted it to be a safeguard against scammers,” she said. “There’s no real way to know an online store is going to give you what you are asking for.”

Besides selling more than 400 of her own masks and donating batches to restaurants, Tshibaka said FacemaskDC, which went live on May 11, has received almost 11,000 hits running on word of mouth and publicity from a NBC-4 news segment.

The website has been a good conduit for people like fast-food workers and others who need a donated mask, said Renata Philippe, founder of graphic and fashion design hub Black Squirrel Co. And besides the charity and goodwill opportunities, she said, each purchased mask also operates like free advertising to help build her company’s reputation and visibility.

“People see the quality of my products,” Philippe said. “That’s something I take pride in.”

When the public health crisis ebbs and her college career is completed, Tshibaka wants to start her own business-casual thrift store in downtown D.C., and hopes the pandemic can be an opportunity for consumers to reorient their habits around buying quality, long-lasting goods the first time around instead of chasing ephemeral trends. 

“The less that people buy from companies that have bad manufacturing processes, the less they will manufacture,” Tshibaka said. “Buying power is positively or negatively impacting the environment.”