Jane Park’s vision for wrapping gifts in eco-friendly fabrics with a digital twist has shifted to wrapping the faces of those looking to stay protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Just a few months into the launch of Tokki, a Seattle-based company she founded after her years of success with the onetime cosmetics juggernaut Julep, Park was hit by the crushing reality of coronavirus and its economic impact. In a LinkedIn post this week, she said Tokki’s revenue “collapsed to zero.”
“January was such an exciting time for us as a new company,” Park told GeekWire. “We had several large corporate clients lined up for regular conferences, hotel room amenities and wholesale. Overnight, we fell off the radar for every single one of those clients because they were dealing with store closures and customer cancellations of their own.”
Tokki’s mission is to be a sustainable alternative to the paper gift wrap that ends up in landfills. Cotton wraps with stylish designs and a special band with the ability to record digital messages are intended to make re-gifting cool.
Like other startup founders and entrepreneurs, Park was quickly looking for a way to save her business and the livelihood of her employees over these past several weeks.
As of last week, Tokki has redirected 100 percent of its cloth inventory to masks. They’re being made in partnership with Park’s friend and fellow entrepreneur Lisa Sun, the fashion designer behind Gravitas, who herself redirected all of her New York City-based sewing resources into mask making.
Park called the high quality quilter’s cotton that Tokki uses to make gift wrap the best material for making masks. They feature two layers and a pocket for filters, so they perform on par to cloth surgical masks.
“We actually have a lot of hospitals and doctors offices calling us, and we prioritize these orders first,” Park said. “We’ve only been letting people know by word of mouth, so I’m incredibly grateful for the response.”
The masks are selling on the Tokki website at $28 for a set of two, with each mask purchased generating the donation of a mask to a worker on the front lines of the crisis. Several designs are shown and kid-size masks are said to be coming soon.
Park, who employs four people on a core team and 16 on Tokki’s extended team, called it a crazy time for businesses who are seeing their revenue collapse overnight. Difficult times can test the mission of a company, no matter how big or small.
Refocusing resources on products people want and need right now is great, but I think you have to be very thoughtful and transparent.
“I’ve called our new mask business ‘pivoting with purpose,’ which is actually entirely different than a knee-jerk change in direction,” she said. “Refocusing resources on products people want and need right now is great, but I think you have to be very thoughtful and transparent.”
The masks are priced so that they are a vehicle for helping the community and maintaining her team. There’s no intention of making a profit and Park, who calls herself an entrepreneur to her core, said that if you’re making money from a situation that is causing so much pain for so many people, you should find a way to give it back to the community.
It’s a process she’s been through previously at Julep, when the recession hit in 2008. She’s relied on some muscle memory, going to landlords for help on rent and dealing with employees when it came to reducing compensation.
“Trust is essential and precarious in these moments, which is why over-communication is important,” Park said. “My advice to businesses considering a pivot is to say more than you think you need to say. Even if your intentions are good, your customers and employees can’t know what is in your heart.”