Left: A Billie Hilliard mask; for information, go to Middle: A box pleated mask by Chloe Dao; for information, go to Right: A mask by Houston-based Onyii & Co.; for information, go to

What makes a great mask? Designers with Houston ties weigh in.

Chloe Dao and Billie Hilliard have donated masks to front line workers

What makes a great mask? Designers with Houston ties weigh in.

2 Minute Read

Weeks before the CDC recommended face coverings to stem the spread of COVID-19, Houston fashion designer Chloe Dao was sewing masks.

“On March 18, I started making basic white, cotton masks,” said Dao, owner of Dao Chloe Dao boutique in Rice Village and winner of television’s “Project Runway” in 2006. “At first, I offered them to the public for free. I wasn’t thinking about the fashion component at all.”

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Dao has donated more than 4,000 masks to front line workers. But once she started selling masks to the public, she began to tinker with different patterns and fabrics, moving through several iterations until arriving at designs that combine fashion and function. Among her most popular: a breathable box pleated mask with elastic ear loops and a pocket for a filter; and a neoprene antibacterial mask that repels water and blocks ultraviolet rays.

“I had to pivot to figure out what’s safe, what people need and what looks good,” said Dao, whose masks come in several sizes. “I consider myself a fabric engineer. At night, I watch YouTube videos about making masks.”

Proceeds from the masks she sells help fund her efforts to make and distribute free masks to health care professionals and people in need.

Another Houston-born artist, jewelry designer Billie Hilliard, took a step back from metalsmithing for a few months to focus exclusively on mask-making.

“It started when my mom asked if I could make masks for her and my sister,” said Hilliard, who is based in Atlanta.

Then she made masks for neighbors and a few teachers who worked with her sister.

“This all started on a Friday,” Hilliard said. “By the following Wednesday, I had 70 orders.”

Hilliard and her boyfriend, who is also an artist, spent four days perfecting a pattern.

“Everything I design—even jewelry—is unisex,” Hilliard explained. “I do classic designs and I never follow trends. I wanted the mask to be sleek and simple. … I wanted to make sure it accentuated the eyes and wasn’t bulky looking. The profile has more of a curve than many other masks.”

Her favorite compliment so far? “A few people have said, ‘Oh my God! I feel like a ninja!’ when they put on one of my masks,” Hilliard said.

When she reached out to essential workers and hospital personnel on social media to let them know she’d supply them with masks free of charge, her business exploded.

“I couldn’t make all the masks myself, so I was able to employ four additional women—seamstresses doing couture stuff for brides,” she said.

Like Dao, Hilliard uses some proceeds from the masks she sells to produce additional masks to donate to health care workers.

As designers, both Hilliard and Dao are looking ahead to what types of masks consumers might want in the coming weeks and months.

Hilliard is working on a collection of couture masks made of raw silk.

Dao just introduced a new design with a hidden slot that allows the wearer to sip from a drink without removing the mask.

“The ‘Safely Sip’ mask is my baby,” she said. “I’m so proud of it.”

Dao also said she will probably start making dresses and other garments to go with her masks.

“No matter what, you want to look cute,” she said, “especially now that half your face is covered.”

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