Des Moines Maker: Behind the Masks

With his newest venture, King Au feels like he’s come full circle. “As a kid growing up in Hong Kong, my mom taught me how to sew on a manual Singer,” says the well-known Des Moines photographer. “Then during the summers I worked in my aunt’s garment factory as a laborer and observed the entire manufacturing process,” from pattern making to final finishing.

Fast-forward to today, and Au has responded to COVID-19 with a new mask-making operation that draws on those skills he learned as a youth—as well as his finely honed artistic sensibilities.

Au teamed up with his son Samuel, who earned an industrial design degree from ISU and who “loves soft-goods design and sewing,” Au says. Together the father-son duo, along with pattern cutter Stefan Seskis, launched the business in late March, with no marketing plan and no brand.   

Nonetheless, demand quickly grew through word of mouth, and the team eventually began offering more than a dozen different designs, from bright, summery looks to ones any Hawkeye or Cyclone fan would love. Au says the masks are designed to be “well thought-out, safe and easy to maintain, but also stylish and aesthetically [pleasing]. … We wanted them to have an upbeat feeling.”

The masks are available through studioau.com and cost $25 each. Some of the proceeds are being donated to the Food Bank of Iowa and other nonprofit organizations. “We are living in a very difficult time,” Au says. “As an artist, I want to do something that utilizes our skills and also sends a positive message.”

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