Bernie Sanders meme offers the face masks and embroidery enterprise a lift in information

PITTSBURGH – A year ago Shane Berry and his fiancé Jeff Okrasinski ran a luxury car service business together. Now they fill their days at their North Fayette home sewing a storm to hand-make face masks and embroider images made famous by memes.

Her latest design – inspired by Senator Bernie Sanders wearing his now famous mittens on inauguration day – has become a viral sensation in its own right. Photos of it got widespread on social media and resulted in hundreds of orders in January. They also sold “Bernie Beanie” hats and crew neck sweatshirts featuring the stoic-looking Sanders.

“It was a bit of luck,” said Berry, who turns 33 this month. “But we have really great customers and they just want us to be successful. That is probably the biggest secret of success – our customers. “

He and Okrasinski, 36, strive to nurture that kindness by associating each design sold by their companies, MaskPGH ( and Berry Good Embroidery ( with a charitable cause. A portion of the sales of all Bernie merchandise is donated to the GlobalGiving Coronavirus Relief Fund.

Giving money to those in need is important for the couple because it wasn’t too long ago when they struggled to make ends meet. After the first wave of COVID-19 restrictions went into effect last March, the luxury car services business “collapsed literally overnight,” Berry said. “We saw that everything we’ve built for this year is literally erased in a day.”

They took up a trivial job while looking for a more stable job, but had little luck.

“There was a time when I looked at Jeff with literal tears in my eyes and said, ‘We got $ 70,'” said Berry.

By late summer, both of them were frustrated – not just about their job prospects, but their face mask options as well.

“I hate powder blue,” said Okrasinski, tugging in the traditional color of surgical masks.

He went to a Joann fabric and craft store to buy supplies and try to make his own. Back home, he took a pot lid from the kitchen, drew it on the fabric, and got to work.

“It suited him well, but it didn’t suit me. I hated it, ”Berry said with a laugh. “That put me on the mission to find a design that suits me.”

That led to what Berry called her first “smash hit” – an adjustable elastic band face mask made of teal fabric with the faces of characters from the sitcom “The Golden Girls”.

“We thought it was going to be some fun,” said Berry. “We know so many of our LGBTQ friends love The Golden Girls. ”

The next month they released a mask made from a fabric resembling Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They released the order forms on the morning of September 18, and news of the death of the longtime US Supreme Court hit the headlines later that day.

“We immediately felt terrible. We didn’t want it to look like we were benefiting from this (her death). We’ve had it for months, ”said Berry.

They donated some money from the sale of RBG masks to the American Association of University Women, a Washington, DC nonprofit that advocates gender equality and other economic and educational opportunities for women and girls.

Along the way, the couple realized that the burgeoning mask-making business needed to expand its scope if they were to survive after the pandemic. That inspired Berry to learn embroidery so they could take custom orders for personalized masks and other clothing items.

He bought a machine from Amazon and watched YouTube tutorials to learn how to use it – and Berry Good Embroidery was born.

“Within that first week, I had orders for bibs, custom towels and other items,” he said.

The day after President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were inaugurated, he received several messages from friends suggesting that the Sanders meme be turned into an embroidery design. He tried it and sewed it onto sweatshirts, hats and masks that he had on hand. As soon as they went live on the website, his cell phone didn’t stop ch-ching, he said.

“This is exactly what our app does when we receive an order. I actually had to mute my phone. “

The success of the Bernie pieces not only earned them money for charity, but enough money to buy more machines to grow their business.

“In the post-COVID economy, we want to be able to create some jobs for the Pittsburgh community,” Okrasinski said. They want to focus on helping people who have completed their sentences re-enter the world of work.

Another goal is to get people out of their home and into a studio, Berry added. “I would like a place where people could come and maybe bring their own things and have them adjusted.”

Whatever the future holds, their commitment to charity will be at the center of their actions.

“I hope we can inspire people,” said Okrasinski. “All you have to do is start.”


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