By: Stuart Benson
On the eve of the COVID-19 shut down back in March, Bébé Baleine was preparing to open its doors, but unfortunately owner Jennifer Kun had to put those plans on hold once Premier Francois Legault ordered non-essential retail stores to close on March 24.
Started in October 2018 by the retired commercial banker and Wakefield resident, Kun's plan was to open the shop, located inside the old recycle shop on 39 Chemin de la Vallée in Wakefield, on April 4 and sell handmade baby clothing.
When the order came to shut down, Kun decided to repurpose all of the fabric and elastics in her inventory into something more immediately useful: facemasks.
“My daughter has a blood condition and goes to the Wakefield hospital every six weeks for treatment and she wanted a mask to go to the hospital, so I made a couple of them for her,” said Kun. “So I thought maybe I would take it to Facebook in case someone else had a similar issue, but I never expected the entire public would want a mask.”
Kun said the initial response was nearly overwhelming, receiving 400 orders in the first two days.
“This is week seven and I've had 1,400 masks ordered and delivered 1,200 of those. It's an unbelievable thing that's happened,” Kun explained. “The baby clothes are kind of on hold because I've been doing masks full-time, seven days a week.”
Kun said that initially, her biggest issue was maintaining enough stock of fabric – specifically the quarter-inch elastic she uses for the mask – in stock.
“I called some of my suppliers that I usually get them from and nobody in Canada or the U.S. had quarter-inch elastic,” Kun explained. “I managed to find a place in Montreal that was willing to sell me 3/8th inch elastic, so I've been working on that, but the quarter-inch won't be available until sometime in June.”
When Kun first started selling the masks, she was charging $7.50 per mask and was just barely covering her costs.
“Going to all my regular suppliers, no one has sales on, so all of the fabric is expensive,” Kun said. “Two weeks ago I raised my prices to $10 a mask and I was able to restock all of my fabric and elastic, so it's still just paying for itself.”
Kun said that, even though she’s working practically non-stop, she isn’t complaining because the added bonus of her good deed has been fantastic P.R. for the Bébé Baleine brand.
“It's become a household name since this is where you come to get masks,” Kun said. “It’s been great.”
Kun still plans to re-open the store to sell baby clothes, but for now, she is only selling through online orders with porch pick-up. The problem right now is that, with her current workload, Kun hasn’t been able to make more physical stock for customers to browse even if she could bring them inside.
“Right now I'm working on a backlog of 25 orders, which is down from 85, so I'm making progress,” Kun said. “I'm hoping by next week I'll be able to keep the masks going with a few hours a day and get back to making baby clothes.”
To get in contact with Kun about masks or to order some baby clothes, you can send an email to email@example.com or visit the online store at bebebaleine.ca.