As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karyna Myres, CEO of SFPRO-TEX.
Karyna Myres is a solution-driven female entrepreneur in the fashion industry with more than 20 years of experience. Myres has always been passionate about building brands that are made in the USA, eco-friendly and sustainable. She specializes in strategy from conception to manufacturing to launch and beyond, and is the founder of Styles Agency, a firm that builds apparel brands from content and web creation to fashion design. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Myres witnessed firsthand frontline medical workers being forced to wear bandanas instead of proper protective masks and quickly built her newest venture SFPRO-TEX where she leads the charge in manufacturing high-quality, customizable masks with FDA-approved options, for the private and public sectors. SFPRO-TEX is a female-led business that activates U.S. factories and has directly contributed to the security of more than 1,000 jobs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?
Thank you for having me! I grew up in San Francisco in the Mission District. My mom was a single mom, and it was just her and I for the first nine years of my life before my sisters were born. Growing up, family was everything (and still is). My mother has five brothers and sisters who immigrated to the United States together from El Salvador. We all lived in San Francisco, along with my father’s extended family. My fondest memory of childhood is constantly being surrounded by so much family. To this day, all of my best friends are my sisters and my cousins.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love the book The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For? By Rick Warren.
For a period of time I had thought life was about accomplishment and accumulation. That my purpose was to be a fashion designer, possibly get married, have children, buy a home, drive a nice car, and have a few good friends, and a fun social life. By the time I was 27 I had worked on quite a few high-profile music videos, commercials, and editorials. I had brushed shoulders with more than a fair share of celebrities, was driving an Aston Martin and lived in a multi-million-dollar mini castle with one of my closest girlfriends. Not to mention had built a brand that was in nearly every high-end department store and over 600 boutiques in the US. I had accomplished a lot for a girl who moved out when she was 17 years old, just to find out that everything that I thought life was about was a lie. Although, I’ve always been a spiritual person — the universe, the law of attraction, meditation, a connection to God, I was still left feeling empty and hungry for more accomplishment and accumulation.
The Purpose Driven Life helped me look beyond all of the things I thought were the means to happiness and helped me generate a deeper understanding and appreciation for the life I’m living in a myriad of ways. When I was called to read the book (which was a gift given to me maybe 10+ years prior) I gave it all of my attention. It helped me with introspection, acknowledging issues and events in my life that I had to work through — and shined a light on the life I had truly created. I found a lot of self-forgiveness and understanding of self. Appreciation for the little things, and the sad bitter truth that most of the people that I had in my life were people that I didn’t actually like or respect — which is something one tends to do in “ Hollywood.” This book helped me break away from a lot of the diseased thinking that is instilled in you when you grow up working in the entertainment industry. It helped me find the strength to change my surroundings, friends, and driving purpose for my life.
I also read passages from the Bible as much as I can and find that it gives me joy, peace, and clarity. It helps me on my journey to being a better person. I find it to be filled with profound wisdom and direction for living a good life. I live in a big city and am bombarded with the stresses of that lifestyle. By no means do I want to portray myself as an angel. I’m flawed, but this helps me to be the best person I can be on any given day, and at the very least reminds me to try.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My favorite quote is, “When you fall off a horse, you have to get back in the saddle.” Basically, if you fall down or get discouraged, don’t allow yourself to spend time being down. Put the fall in the past, get up and keep moving forward. Forward is the only way! I live by this quote nearly every single day.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
I have worked in the fashion industry for more than 20 years, which has taken me in different directions along the way. My brand building agency, Styles Agency, has given me the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in fashion and pop culture over the years, and I love being able to work with a brand every step of the way from conception to web creation to fashion design and beyond.
Once the news of the pandemic was starting to hit the nation and protocols were forcing everything to shut down, I was in the middle of production for a brand that I was currently building via Styles Agency. My first thought was of all the different factories I work with and how they were going to have to shut down, affecting the jobs of hundreds of people.
It became clear to me very quickly that we were detrimentally reliant on importing products from overseas. I watched the news and saw that we were unconventionally short on supplies for our first responders and were waiting to be “saved.” I watched my industry slowly move production overseas in the early 2000s. Throughout my career I’ve seen many American factories close down, talented novelty dye houses shutter, and fabric mills with some of the most beautifully made textiles go out of business because they could not compete with overseas pricing.
As the news hit that valuable PPE was being held at customs longer than usual, and we were at the mercy of these overseas manufacturers, I was so completely frustrated because we are the United States of America, and instead of supporting our local industries, we were at the mercy of other countries. It felt more important than ever to disrupt that dependence and GET TO WORK utilizing the incredible factories and workers that we have right here in Los Angeles! SFPRO-TEX was up and running in a matter of just five days. Not only have we been able to provide necessary PPE to first responders, corporations and more, we are proud to have ensured the security of more than 1,000 jobs here in the United States amid a global pandemic.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?
Stan Lee has a quote that perfectly encompasses how I feel about heroes — “The definition of a hero is someone who is concerned about other people’s well-being, and will go out of his or her way to help them — even if there is no chance of reward.” A hero is a person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, because it is the right thing to do.
In your opinion or experience, what are 5 characteristics of a hero?
To me, all heroes exhibit selflessness, compassion, consciousness, valor and a quickness to act.
If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?
I think heroism is something that is inherent in a person. It is who they are, a part of their spirit and soul, rather than something that is taught. Once you are presented with a fork in the road that requires you to be committed or not, you have to be that person who moves forward without a doubt simply because it is the right thing to do.
What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?
I have worked in the fashion industry for more than 20 years, but SFPRO-TEX was born out of a conversation I had with a friend of mine once the pandemic hit. We witness firsthand nurses in Santa Monica being forced to wear bandanas to cover their faces instead of proper medical masks. We both agreed this was simply unacceptable, considering they were putting their lives on the line. When my friend initially pushed me to take matters into my own hands and use my extensive network and resources to create PPE for the public and private sectors on my own, my first reaction was, “There is no way it can be me. There are so many larger corporations who are better equipped in every way to do something.” As days and weeks went on, no one was stepping up, and my friend was calling me almost daily to ask if I had gotten to work yet. If it weren’t for her encouraging me, I’m not sure I would have done it. But I was fueled by the passion I have for my industry, particularly the fashion and manufacturing industry in Los Angeles, and the amazing network and army of manufacturers that I already had at my disposal, ready to work in factories that would otherwise close due to COVID protocols. So that was it, I got to work!
Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?
My mother always has and always will be my hero. She came to the United States with her five siblings when she was just a teenager, and she had a very hard life. She lost her mother when she was very young and overcame every obstacle life threw her way. When she found herself as a single mother, she never used that as an excuse and instead used it as motivation to put herself through undergrad and university level schooling, and even went beyond that to earn her Master’s degree. She has sacrificed so much without ever once complaining. When I see people say that they can’t do something, whatever the reason may be, or whenever I find myself doubting my own ability, I realize my privilege of having a head start in life. Against all odds, my mother has become a success on her own. My two younger sisters are the best people I know, and they are a product of my mother who raised them to be that way.
Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?
I am most frightened by the people who are defiant and simply refuse to wear a mask in public to help flatten the curve. There are so many facts and statistics out there at this point that prove it is the simplest way to stop the spread and show our respect for others while in public.
Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?
Despite everything, I do think there are government officials, particularly at a local and state level, who are erring on the side of caution and doing everything within their power to make up for the people who are choosing to not take the pandemic seriously. I am happy that these elected officials have the courage to make the decisions that are not always popular but are in the best interest for the greater good.
What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?
I find it extremely inspiring seeing people contribute to each other’s lives more during the pandemic. Watching people act outside of their personal interest has given me immense hope, whether it be shopping for the elderly, looking out for their neighbors, speaking out in support of Black Lives Matter or seeing groups of people all wearing masks amid a peaceful protest or a neighborhood clean-up. There has been a lot of selflessness out there if you look for it.
On the contrary, it is disappointing that many people are leaning towards selfishness and defiance, rather than acting in such a way that is beneficial for the greater cause.
Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.
If anything, the pandemic brought what I already thought to be true about society to the surface and confirmed my beliefs. The problems in society as well as the wonderful things about society, in my opinion, are pretty apparent to anyone that wants to see it. This year has been a huge wakeup call for all of us. When everyone entered the new year saying “2020 vision,” that is exactly what we got. We are no longer allowed to ignore these major flaws instilled in our global society.
What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?
I hope everyone is overall more conscious of the fact that we are all equal human beings. No matter what race, religion, economic status, at the end of the day we are all in the same position, especially when it comes to something that is life threatening like the pandemic. We are stripped bare of everything we possess, our jobs and our titles and we are all just human.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would tell my younger self, along with other young people considering making changes to positively impact the world, that you should care and want to do it because we really are all in this together and we only have one planet. All young people should be interested in creating a better society and taking care of the Earth in any way they can, big or small. If every single person played his or her part and made personal choices that benefited the environment, those efforts would add up. Starting an organization or something on a large scale can seem daunting and may prevent a young person from acting at all. But you don’t have to do something huge. Choose to support local businesses, buy something made in the United States, help your neighbor, or recycle within your own home. Every little bit really does help!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am most passionate about human equality. We are all created equal, and we should help each other instead of being in competition with each other. I firmly believe that if we all learned to be truly happy (happiness found within) and invested in those around us that we care about, instead of constantly worrying about our own lives, that in itself would produce so much love. Our society would be different, and it would make an impact on global happiness, homelessness, unemployment, and quality of life. It would seep into every facet of our lives. We should all strive to love with our whole heart and be fully invested in everything we do and say.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
There are so many incredible women, past and present, whom I would love to share a meal with! It seems impossible to choose just one, so I’ll go with someone I am currently fascinated by, and that is Gloria Steinem. I recently got into the show Mrs. America thanks to quarantine, which is based on the true story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Gloria Steinem was one of the prominent women leading the movement that ultimately faced a great amount of backlash, and I think she is just incredible.
I have a million questions to ask her about the movement, about her magazine, about being a businesswoman, about what it felt like to see women come together in droves- so publicly-for what they believed in. And most of all to say thank you. Because, without her and the efforts of women like her, I wouldn’t be able to have the company that I have. I certainly wouldn’t have had the ability to make the choices that I’ve had available to me, in so many areas of my life. She fought for women and steadfastly stood for what she believed in, and continues to do so. And, I’m grateful for that.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
COMING SOON @sfprotex
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!