Jody Vitelli was just getting over a nasty case of bronchitis when she boarded a flight from Los Angeles to New York and noticed a seated passenger who looked terribly feverish. She noted this woman’s seat number, 15A. Vitelli looked down to check her ticket—sure enough, she was seated in 15B.
“I was so upset to think that I could be exposed to airborne illness on the plane after just recovering from my bronchitis,” she says. “I was really frustrated.”
Vitelli, a Brooklyn native and Minneapolis resident, even asked the flight attendant if the airline could provide the woman with a mask. Getting a negative response, Vitelli got to thinking: Where would this woman get a mask even if she wanted to be socially responsible and considerate?
“There were none to be had at the terminals,” says Vitelli. “And why not?”
That was her aha moment—or as Vitelli puts it, “The idea arrived on a gesundheit!”—and it led to the creation of Tutem Masks, a line of single-use, personal masks that may help prevent the spread of airborne germs in public places.
Named for the Latin word tutis, meaning safety or protection, Tutem Masks sport fashionable designs such as houndstooth and butterfly prints, and cheeky phrases like “Keep it to yourself” and “Don’t go viral.” Vitelli hopes making these masks fashionable will de-stigmatize the practice of wearing them in public.
Available in 11 prints and counting, the masks are individually wrapped and sold in packages of two or 10, including an all-natural CleanWell sanitizing wipe with each mask. The hope is that people can always have hygienic masks on hand for their own use or to hand out to others in need. Vitelli envisions the masks as being perfect for travelers, commuters, parents, children, caretakers, students, teachers, germaphobes and more.
Tutem Masks, which are latex-free, low-procedural surgical masks, meet FDA regulations, conform to the user’s face and feature a patented breathing chamber that makes long wear comfortable. A two-pack retails for $8.
So far feedback to Tutem Masks has been “extraordinary,” Vitelli says: “People intuitively understand the need. We have done several trade shows, and people all say, ‘I could have used this on the way over here!’”
Conversations with buyers at these trade shows have sparked tons of great ideas for new patterns—like recent mothers inquiring about baby designs or colleges requesting their school logos. “Midterms and finals can be a daunting time,” Vitelli explains, and schools can use the masks to help stem the spread of illness during these periods.
Vitelli is honored to be giving back to the domestic workforce. All Tutem Masks are made in the United States, in partnership with The Work Activity Center in Salt Lake City.
“I wanted to give work to people who are quite capable of doing the job of assembling and shipping—without automation,” she says. “I am extremely proud that we give support and work to wonderful people.”