One of Key West’s most talented residents is Gary Marion (a.k.a. “Sushi”), who entertains nightly on the second floor of the popular LGBTQ hangout 801 Bourbon Bar in the “Sushi and the 801 Girls” show.

Sushi Key West choosing fabric for sewing masks

Gary Marion, also known as Sushi, chooses fabric for the masks he and his team are sewing to help keep people safe during the coronavirus crisis. (Photos by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Over the years, Sushi has also become a drag icon known worldwide for her Key West “Red Shoe Drop” each New Year’s Eve — a quirky takeoff on New York City’s famed Times Square ball drop that’s frequently showcased on CNN’s annual New Year’s Eve television program.

Currently, Gary can’t stage nightly drag shows since the coronavirus crisis forced clubs and venues to close. However, that hasn’t stopped his never-ending flow of creativity and desire to support his local community. Recently he has switched roles from performer/director to seamstress extraordinaire with the far-reaching goal of helping keep America safe.

Gary has temporarily traded out his accustomed nightclub stage and converted part of his home into a sewing wonderland, creating colorful cloth masks for facial protection against the coronavirus. He and his dedicated team of drag queens have made about 2,500 masks to date and have hundreds of additional orders to fill.

“We started making 100 masks a day, and now we’re making 500 masks a day in two shifts, a morning shift and an evening shift,” said Gary, who has filled orders to ship around the U.S. and the globe.

The masks are constructed with elastic and 100-percent cotton fabric patterned with flamingos, tropical prints, cartoon characters, and other eye-catching designs.

“There’s nothing special about them,” Gary said modestly. “They’re the recommended CDC mask, but I think the reason why it spread so fast is because so many people know about the shoe drop that we do in Key West every New Year’s Eve.”

Sewing is definitely not a new venture for Gary (or Sushi), who is very much a man/woman of many talents.

Sushi sewing coronavirus masks Key West

Using an industrial sewing machine and 100-percent cotton fabric, Gary and his team of drag queens can complete about 500 masks per day.

Not only does he design all of his New Year’s Eve and “profile event” costumes from scratch, but he was also trained as a sous chef in Tokyo and can even help fix a car engine (now that’s pretty butch, if you ask me!). In addition, he has designed and constructed costumes for local theater productions.

Gary and his team have provided the protective masks to local government officials, hospice staff members, airline employees, workers at essential businesses, and many others (with some recipients living as far away as London, Paris and the Philippines). In return, they’re asking only for donations to assist with fabric costs and aid members of the drag troupe until they can return to work.

“I hope my drag queens and me making these masks will inspire other people to do the same — to just help other people,” Gary said. “No matter if you’re straight, gay, bi, whatever … we’re all the same.

“This project means the world to me,” he added. “We’re all in this together, so I hope that these masks coming out of Key West will inspire everyone to help others.”

Click here for information on how to request a mask.

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