Surviving and Thriving: Jana Yee ’99 Lam

Jana Yee ’99 Lam now makes masks using the signature, colorful fabrics of her company, Jana Lam Hawaii.

By Mari Taketa

Life for Jana Yee ’99 Lam is often a whirl, much like the swooping, colorful designs on her sought-after totes and accessories. But on the day she pivoted her business to make masks for Hawai‘i health care workers, life was more of a blur. It was the
middle of March, and she had a fever and bad cough. She tested positive for pneumonia and not COVID-19, but with cases of the virus rising in the Islands, she had suspended operations and sent home employees. “I was laid up in my bed not able to do anything,” she recalls. “I had a couple of friends who messaged me, and they were like, ‘Jana, make masks.’ Within a day, we had a prototype, and I was trying to work out who needed them.”

Lam says the masks gave her and her team
purpose, a mission and most of all, hope. “Hope to make a difference and help people in need,” she says. “And as time went by, hope that making masks could carry us through a crisis with no ending in sight.”

Even now, Lam is stunned by the response. When she put the masks for sale on her website for $24 – which included a fabric mask hand-sewn by her seamstresses, plus three more factory-made masks to be donated to health care workers – 800 masks sold out in eight minutes. Soon, the waitlist grew to 2,500 people.

By early July, when we talked to Lam, she had closed sales, raising $26,000 – $10,000 of which went to Queen’s Medical Center and other O‘ahu hospitals. “It’s been really great. It kept my team working. It kept us afloat,” she says. “When this all hit, I was pretty devastated … Things are looking back up.”

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