ROSLYN, NY — After the coronavirus forced millions of New Yorkers out of work and threatened to close thousands of businesses, two Roslyn moms saw an opportunity. They got creative, launched a new business selling mask-holders, and now have a flourishing enterprise — even getting actress Idina Menzel, known best for voicing Elsa in the hit Disney film “Frozen,” to wear their product.
Andrea Heitner and Andrea Weisbach — they collectively call themselves “The Andreas” — in July came to a realization: masks and face coverings were here to stay. But they weren’t very comfortable, or fashionable for that matter.
Weisbach is the mother to four boys and Heitner is the mother of two boys and a girl. All range in age from 17 to 24. They noticed a pattern — their kids and husbands would leave and immediately have to return home. They forgot their masks. In some cases, masks would fall out of a pocket and onto the floor, making them hardly a hygienic option for a face covering.
As Heitner was sitting around the house, an idea began percolating in her head. She loves jewelry, and she had beads throughout the house. So she started fiddling with some string and a mask and tried to fashion it into a necklace, similar to sports sunglasses.
And voilà — the first prototype was hot off the assembly line.
She brought the prototype to Weisbach’s home, knowing Weisbach was stronger at the “technical” skills.
“This is like the yin/yang,” Heitner said. “She’s very ‘techy,’ I’m front office, very ‘salesy.’ It’s a good marriage.”
In June, businesses were just beginning to open up downstate. Doing their best impression of a hazardous materials team, the duo traveled to New York City. Their mission was simple: See what sort of mask-holders were already out there.
“We went, and we couldn’t find any of these that we liked,” Heitner said. “It was like, there was nothing.”
When they entered one store, the wall seemed to light up in sparkles. It was a wall of colorful chains. Heitner looked at Weisbach. She felt they were close to finding what they’d been searching for.
“It was just very inviting,” she said. “It made me happy in the moment.”
They brought a couple feet of chain home. Eureka! Out came fashionable, chain mask-holders. And it wasn’t long before some neighborhood girls noticed their social media posts showing off the new creations.
“They loved it. It just sort of took off from there,” Heitner said.
People quickly bought in. They were fashionable and solved a common problem. Within a week, they started to see interest. They built a website and advertised through Instagram and Facebook. Orders started trickling in.
“It was really kind of life-changing for people,” Weisbach said.
They named the fledgling business BkeeperNYC, inspired from the phrase bead-keeper, which the Andreas also sell. They found a niche that struck a cord with the community: affordable, yet fashionable, mask-holders. That lent itself well to their eventual slogan, “B kind. B safe. B beautiful.”
The chains were also gender-neutral, so they were popular with guys, too. The Andreas offer more than 10 chain colors including gun-metal, turquoise and red. The chains are designed with lobster clasps on both ends that clip onto mask straps. When not in use, the mask hangs securely around the wearer’s neck.
Mask chains can be worn as singles or doubles, mixing metals for an edgier look. They can also be combined with jewelry. They’re aluminum, too, so they’re light even if they appear weighty. The chains caught the eyes of local stores seeking to place wholesale orders to resell the chains in their own stores.
“Suddenly we looked at each other, and we were like, ‘I don’t know… Are we selling?’ Heitner said with a laugh.
So they started fulfilling wholesale orders for stores. Large orders.
“We were jumping up and down around the living room,” Heitner said. “We couldn’t believe it.”
By mid-September, BkeeperNYC chains were available in about 15 stores and sold as far away as Boston, New Orleans, New Jersey, Westchester County and Manhattan. They still sell directly to consumers through their website as well. Mask chains range from $25-$40. Masks range from $20-$25. They’re all hand-made locally.
“We don’t have a factory. Everything is a labor of love,” Heitner said. “We make everything.”
The chains are fashioned at the Andreas’ homes with the help of family friends who were furloughed due to the pandemic. The chain-makers wear gloves when working with the materials.
The business has sold several thousand chains in the span of three months.
Both Long Island natives, the Andreas are who have known each other for about two decades. Weisbach grew up in Commack, attended Commack High School and later the University of Hartford. Heitner grew up in Bellmore, attended Bellmore High School and later University At Buffalo. In launching the business, they knew they wanted to give back to the community, too.
“We give back to a different charity every month,” Weisbach said. “Or do flash sales.”
Previously, they donated 570 meals to City Harvest, a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger in New York City. This month, they’re giving back to Sunrise Day Camp, which serves children with cancer. Next month, they plan to support a local breast cancer organization launched by a close friend.
“We made a mask and have a pink chain that’s going to be sold together,” Weisbach said. “Twenty percent of the proceeds will go to Go With Courage.”
This article originally appeared on the Port Washington Patch