City Heights Fashion Designer Turns To Masks To Stay In Business During Pandemic – KPBS

Photo by Andi Dukleth

Above: Lili Klu shows off her designer face masks in her El Cajon store on April 30, 2020.

Like so many other small business people, Lili Klu had to close her African fashion design business in City Heights because of the coronavirus pandemic. But she’s found a new stream of revenue by creating fashionable alternatives for the face masks we all have to wear now.

Klu, who immigrated from Togo in West Africa almost twenty years ago, had only been in her new El Cajon Boulevard storefront for a couple months when the virus forced her doors shut.

It came at a time when her business, LK Fashion Design, had hit its stride — she’d already outgrown two other storefronts. Her stylish African fabrics and modern sensibility festoon her now-shuttered store, where she’d do fittings and custom-design outfits for her clients.

But Klu, who’s raising two teenagers, didn’t let the pandemic stop her from being part of the bleeding edge of fashion. She’s now using her fabrics to make a line of stylish face masks.

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“Everybody can’t wear the hospital mask,” Klu said. “We always have African fabric in quantity. It’s all cotton, it’s comfortable. We can do that and still make it fashion. Even though it’s a mask, it still has to be classy.”

While Klu had never made a mask before, she said she didn’t need to use a pattern to figure it out. She’s also branched out to matching head scarves and coverings for doctors.

“We don’t know how long it’s gonna take and even when people come back, they’re not thinking about wearing clothes right now. It’s a lot of stuff, a lot of bills I have to pay, so I’m worried,” Klu said.

People can buy masks by messaging her Facebook page or calling her store. She’s hoping that by bringing a little style to grim times, she’ll be able to weather the economic storm, and get back to the dresses, shirts, and jackets she’s become known for.


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Max Rivlin-Nadler
Speak City Heights Reporter

I cover City Heights, a neighborhood at the intersection of immigration, gentrification, and neighborhood-led health care initiatives. I’m interested in how this unique neighborhood deals with economic inequality during an unprecedented global health crisis.

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