Local entrepreneur makes stylish masks fit for a pandemic-themed runway

Biomedical engineer Sahithya Wintrich launched Ava Masks to provide stylish, comfortable masks that keep people safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since her launch, she’s sold more than 1,000 masks and is now looking to expand.


When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Ohio, Sahithya Wintrich was busy working on a startup called Vyne. The biomedical engineer and mother of two wanted to create an app that would make it easier for people in Cleveland to find things to do. Yet suddenly, all events were canceled, and her startup wasn’t relevant anymore.

“I thought, ‘OK, what am I going to do next?’” said Wintrich, an Indian native who moved to Northeast Ohio to attend Cleveland State University, where she met her husband. “I thought it was atrocious that the top country in the world was going through a PPE shortage. That was unacceptable to me.”

Monica Plunkett of Ava Masks.

Monica Plunkett of Ava Masks.

Wintrich soon found herself partnering with Monica Plunkett, a property designer for theater, film and commercials, to create Ava Masks, a homegrown company that makes an “N95 analogue” mask for everyday use. The masks are different because materials are sourced in the US, they’re handmade locally, and they’re stylish and fit well in addition to being safe and healthy.

“Fit is the number one priority,” explained Wintrich. “You can have the best N95 mask in the world, but if it doesn’t fit properly, it won’t help you.”

Ava Masks uses quilter’s cotton because of its filtration capability and comfort, Wintrich said. The masks also come with single use polypropylene filters. The three materials (2 layers of cotton and 1 layer of polypropylene) have been tested for over 95% filtration efficiency in both directions, to protect the wearer and those around them.

But let’s not forget fashion! These snug-fitting masks, which come in four different sizes, look good enough for a pandemic-themed runway. “I want people to feel safe and look chic,” said Wintrich. “If you don’t look good in it, you won’t want to wear it. It’s become an accessory, unfortunately.”

Ava Masks, which Wintrich created with Plunkett just a couple of months, has sold over 1,000 masks so far. They cost $21 each, but given that they’re handmade, high-quality and durable, Wintrich thinks it’s a worthwhile investment.

Jiah, a Cleveland Orchestra violinist, wearing an Ava mask.

Jiah, a Cleveland Orchestra violinist, wearing an Ava mask.

With most masks designed for short-term utility, not comfort or long-term wear, she’s also filling a gap in the market. Wintrich and Plunkett sold the masks at the Shaker Square Farmers Market over the summer, as well as online and through her social networks. Her masks have been used by orchestra violinists in Cleveland and other cities.

“I have a friend who is a violinist in the Cleveland Orchestra,” she said. “She loved it. All the others would move up and down while she was playing. This stays put because of the metal hook on the nose. If worn properly, it will not move.”

Wintrich and Plunkett are working with Esperanza Threads, a nonprofit based in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, to increase her mask-making capacity this winter. Ava Masks has 15 patterns currently, and they’ve added a festive design for the holidays. Above all, Wintrich wants to encourage mask-wearing and help keep people safe and comfortable during this difficult time.

“There’s a huge amount of misinformation out there,” she said. “That’s part of the struggle. We want to help people navigate the misinformation and do the right thing.”

Ava Masks will be selling its products online at ava-masks.com during the Cuyahoga County stay-at-home advisory. Stay safe, and wear a mask!

Lee Chilcote is founder and editor of The Land.

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