With the newfound scarcity of personal protective equipment, artisans and makers of all ages and abilities have been stepping up to fabricate gowns and masks for healthcare workers and the general public, including Vermont’s own Laura Sullivan, who is contributing both her talents and values to address the mounting public health crisis by producing protective masks made out of hemp.
“I think that when crisis hits, you can either be a victim or a responder, and I think this is the best use of my skill set for the crisis at hand.”
Available through her website, Pipe Dream Hempworks, Sullivan explained that her passion for creating sustainable and functional art and tools has led her to make a variety of hemp materials over the past five years, ranging from wedding dresses to custom clothing.
“I like to make wearable art pieces, which are mostly one-of-a-kind: dresses, tops, pants, skirts. I’ll use a combination of hemp fabric, botanical dyes, vintage fabric, and other pieces which people will give me from their stockpile so I can recycle.”
Unfortunately, as most American textile production has moved overseas over the past few decades, the growing and processing of hemp fiber into usable textiles was also outsourced, mostly to Eastern Europe and China, who produce most of the hemp textiles that Sullivan and others use. That still-necessary importation not only adds uncertainty about sourcing and processing practices, but also exponentially increases shipping cost, due to the heavier weight of the durable hemp fabric compared to it’s less-sustainable cotton and synthetic cousins.
Sullivan had been inspired into action by other makers and artisans who have been sewing, selling, and sharing protective face masks — which the State of Vermont has now recommended be worn by any and everyone venturing out into public — but was still surprised by the demand. So much so, that since the initial interview on the Vermontijuana podcast two days ago, she’s already sold out and re-stocked.
“The response has been a little bit overwhelming, I’ve had a lot of people buying masks, which is kind of a shock — it gets your finger on the pulse of where everyone is at, and it kind of hit me, that demand.”
On her website, Sullivan is careful not to make any medical claims, but does note the added antimicrobial benefits of indigo, which she uses as a natural dye, as well as the option to purchase a completely compostable mask option, which uses an extra ‘gather’ instead of an elastic band. At that point, the masks are just the hemp fabric, cotton cord, cotton thread, and the natural plant dye.
“This is a pandemic, we’re all hoping it doesn’t last long, but it’s really important for us to think about our consumption in a way that’s not going to just lead to more waste because we’re panicking.”
Not only for use during quarantine, Sullivan says that she’ll use her mask when processing hemp plants and sees broader use by woodworkers, artists, and any others who would normally find themselves wearing disposable protective equipment. The masks retail for $12.50 plus shipping and are available on the Pipe Dream Hempworks website, as well as featured on the Pipe Dream Hempworks instagram, @Pipe.Dream.Hempworks
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