DUNMORE, ALTA. -- With a growing number of communities making face coverings mandatory, a southern Alberta company has found success after making a quick pivot.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Medicine Hat area company Weddingstar shifted from matrimony to masks, and they are now shipping the face coverings to more than 100 countries around the world.

Weddingstar owner and CEO Rick Brink said the pandemic brought the wedding industry to a sudden halt. He recalls looking at the sales report on a Friday shortly after the pandemic started and while sales were down a little, they weren’t looking too bad.

"And when we came to work Monday, it was 'Oh my goodness! Where are the orders?'."

Brink and his wife started the business about 40 years ago, selling seasonal decorations and wedding supplies out of their garage. They now have a large distribution centre in Dunmore, a hamlet roughly two kilometers southeast of Medicine Hat city limits.

Helping couples tie the knot turned into big business and they had become a major distributor of wedding decorations, stationery, and personalized supplies.

But, in March, that all changed.

"Once they started lowering the group size of weddings from 50 down to 10, we knew it was going to stop," said Brink.

Within a week, the company was forced to lay off 70 people, and they were preparing for a second round of layoffs when the government approved an emergency wage subsidy program.

"We started thinking, 'Okay. What can we do with that? How can we grow our company and how can we come out of this stronger?'."

Brink said one of the strengths of Weddingstar was the networks they’ve created with manufacturing companies around the world. "That’s when we decided to get our design team involved, and we started designing the ultimate mask, with all the features required to keep people safe."

Since then they have produced several million face masks, and offer more than 150 designs.

"We realized way back that people going to work were not going to want to wear a medical mask," said Brink. "They want a little more personality."

This week the company launched a line of masks for Christmas, with about a dozen designs for children and adults. After unexpected success in Canada with a mask that bears the image of the British flag, Weddingstar has added more than half a dozen other flag designs.

And, of course, they have a selection of masks for brides and grooms.

"We have about 20 masks in the works that will have bridal lace and are specifically designed for the wedding market."

Brink said they are also planning on coming out with higher end consumer masks "with a lot of glitz and glamour."

He's learned that you can’t judge what will sell based on the opinions of two or three people. "The designs that you sometimes think won’t sell are always the best sellers."

Offering a wide variety of colours and designs has made Weddingstar the largest supplier of face masks in Canada and a major player in the U.S. market. The company has a warehouse in the U.K. that processes most of the European orders.

While they were involved with Amazon in a small way prior to the pandemic, online sales have steadily increased in Australia, France, and other parts of the world.

"Amazon has been a big part of getting us that distribution in those countries," added Brink.

Weddingstar masks are also available at London Drugs stores and the company is in talks with several other large retailers about having masks on their shelves.

While Brink realizes the market for masks won’t last forever, he expects demand will continue especially with the flu season approaching.

Meanwhile the wedding business is slowing starting to rebound, although restrictions on gathering sizes have resulted in orders that aren’t as large as they once were.

With many couples putting off their weddings for a year, the industry is hoping for a strong bounce back in 2021. Others who went ahead with small weddings this summer may still be planning a celebration or party once larger gatherings are allowed.

Either way, Weddingstar will be ready. "Once the weddings pick up we’ll be able to transform back to our wedding or personalized gift market."