July 31, 2020

The story behind the NY Rangers custom masks they’re wearing in the bubble

Shesterkin wearing a custom mask (NYR)

Earlier this week, the Rangers tweeted out some photos of Brendan Lemieux, Igor Shesterkin and Ryan Strome wearing a mask with their jersey number on it.

Fans loved them and some even asked where to get them. Well, I have the answer for you as one of my Rangers acquintances is the man behind these masks. I spoke to him to talk about how this came to pass and how a simple gesture turned into something bigger.

How it started

A few months ago, when the world went on lockdown, the idea to make custom masks was a spontaneous suggestion by Tolik Borts. Starting out just making a handful of masks for friends and family, it quickly grew into something bigger.

Now a team of five, they include two people hand-stitching the masks, a graphic designer and a PR person who reaches out to hospitals, schools and more. They are currently working on masks for the Garden of Dreams and Smilezone foundation through Adam Graves.

Our mission, like our masks, is a symbol of the unselfish act to protect others. Some may not know that wearing a mask is not necessarily to protect themselves, but rather others around them if in case they are with, or without knowledge get infected with this terrible virus“, Borts says.

In the last 3 months, they have supplied masks to over 900 individuals including former Rangers Ron Duguay, Ron Greschner, Darius Kasparaitis, Aaron Asham and Matt Barnaby among others.

Our Face Masks for Fans project began at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early March 2020. When masks were an absolute necessity, but products were scarce, we teamed up with professional seamstresses working at mom-and-pop tailor shops in Brooklyn, NY. We decided to utilize our own New York Rangers t-shirts directly from our own closet collections and cultivate a mask that can both compliment a purpose of protection and fashion. We displayed our masks on a wide variety of social media platforms, selling them to fans and investing all our profits into more materials, and purchasing more shirts online.

Every shirt and jersey is washed, sanitized, and ironed. Every mask is double layered, and then a third thin layer is added for a filter pocket. They include a 5-layer PM2.5 activated charcoal filter, which further provides a level or protection.

Equipping the New York Rangers

Through a mutual connection, they were put in touch with an individual in the Rangers organization and that’s where it took off. “We wanted to do something for the team, give back to the team that brought us so much joy over the years“, Borts explained.

Previously, they had manufactured masks for the coaching staff, and now they were looking to make more for the players. The reason they went with jersey numbers is because Altrunite wanted to give the players something personal. Instead of the random masks they made out of cloth donated to them, they decided to do something different. They used jerseys for the fabric and give the players a personal mask that makes them easily recognizable even when wearing a mask.

After finishing the final masks, they packaged them in personalized pouches with a card addressed to every individual. “At the training facility, when the masks were dropped off, they were surprised by the attention to detail with the pouches and a handwritten card inside. I wonder if they just expected us to hand over a plastic bag with a bunch of masks“, about the reaction of the Rangers.

After the Rangers arrived in Toronto, the masks were distributed, and within a day, photos popped up of the masks being worn. When asked about those photos, the guys from Altrunite said, “We were humbled and stunned when we saw those photos. It felt like an accomplishment we never thought we’d reach. I always, as a fan, asked for autographs, and photos, and t-shirts but now I was able to give something back. I was able to impact their lives“.

This whole experience has made quite the impression on the Altrunite crew and it has given them the motivation to keep going.

Where to get these Rangers custom masks

Altrunite, a mash-up of Brooklynite and Altruist, is a non-profit organization and their website, www.altrunite.com, will go live in the next couple days. If you want to support this intiative, contact details can be found on the card below. They are taking donations in the form of any Rangers-related cloth merchandise (jerseys, t-shirts etc) which they use to create these hand-made fabric masks.

All images courtesy of Tolik Borts

Note from the writer: Forever Blueshirts isn’t affiliated with Altrunite. We simply wanted to tell the story behind the masks that showed up on social media after seeing a lot of fans asking where to get these.

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