Fashion Statements: Fabric store sees increase in sales due to face-mask makers

President and General Manager of El Conquistador Juan Kenigstein cuts through fabric Tuesday, May 26, 2020, at his fabric store in downtown Brownsville. Kenigstein has seen an increase in sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic and residents shopping for fabric supplies to make protective face masks. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

Animal print, sequins, satin, glittery and even metallics, are some of the fabric types residents have been purchasing at El Conquistador since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out to either make or sell face masks.

Located on 1222 E. Washington Street in Downtown Brownsville, the fabric store has been serving the community for more than 50 years. As a family-owned business, El Conquistador cares about the health and safety of customers, even more so than the profits.

“It is not a matter of gouging with prices, whatever you sell don’t take advantage of people, people don’t have the money right now and I know a lot of people want to make money but it’s not a matter of making money; it is a matter of supporting each other, helping each other in order for us to survive this difficult time,” Juan Kenigstein, general manager and president of the corporation, said during an interview.

Surrounded by hundreds of fabric rolls of different colors and textures, Kenigstein continued on how the store was deemed essential since the beginning of the pandemic and never had to close, creating access for the community to make and sell face masks for every style. While most customers are pretty “savvy” and know the type of fabric they have to buy to be a little more protected, Kenigstein said about 50 percent of them are now looking to make fashion statements.

“This is not going to end, I see it as a trend for the next year, or maybe two years, what I’m being surprised is now they’re buying fabrics that has nothing to do with cotton; they’re buying matching fabric, they want it to match to their blouse. They gotta look cool and if that’s what they want to do I am here,” he said.

“We sell the fabrics, we don’t want to recommend, we want them to be savvy enough for them to make their own decisions on what they want to buy. It’s not a matter of saving money to make a mask, they have to do it properly. I’m considering and hoping that they are doing their mask using the proper materials in order to help the individuals that they are going to sell.”

Concerned with safety, Kenigstein said every customer is required to wear a face mask inside the store. He said even though the store does not have a lot of customers at the same time, it is better to be safe and take care of everyone around us.

The business man continued on how there are customers who have been going regularly since the beginning to create their own business by selling face masks.
Such is the case of Adriana Ortiz, who entered the store minutes after noon last Tuesday wearing an animal print face mask and a flowery jumper. She was looking for new fabric styles to keep up with the demand she has been experiencing since she started sewing and selling face masks as a way to sustain herself economically after being left with no job during the pandemic.

“I’m a nail artist, I have my own salon, but due to this COVID-19 I got shutdown so I had to find another way of working. Thank God [Kenigstein] was the only one that was open during this so I started to make face masks to sell and this what I’ve been doing,” she said. “I’m here regularly to buy fabric and the colors that we are asked, so this is what I’ve been doing.”