- Sophie Kirpan
On March 13, the orders stopped. Sophie Kirpan of Fayston had spent the last four years building her brand, Vermont Tribe. The business specializes in baby onesies and shirts emblazoned with patches in the shape of Vermont, flannel bibs, dog bandanas, and plush bunnies with floppy ears — all sewed by Kirpan. Prior to COVID-19, she sold her goods at local gift stores like Birdfolk Collective in Waterbury and Winooski and Common Deer in Burlington, as well as at boutiques all over the country, from Alabama to Wisconsin. But with stores closed, "I went from sewing being the main source of income for my family to nothing," said Kirpan, who has a 10-month-old son, Sylvester, and a partner in his last year of nursing school at Vermont Technical College in Randolph.
Immediately, people started telling Kirpan that she should sew face masks, but she was skeptical. "The market is going to be flooded," she thought.
- Kirpan and son Sylvester
But then the wholesale platform she works with to sell her goods put a call out to sewists, asking them to make masks. For seven days, said Kirpan, she barely slept while she experimented with mask designs, trying to find one that could be adjusted to different sizes and didn't slip. She settled on a version with elastic that goes around both the head and the neck, rather than the ears.
Within one week, she had orders for 360 masks for retailers in ten different states, mostly shops she'd never worked with before. She also received requests from a handful of pregnant women, who told her they were ordering a mask that they could use when they went to the hospital to deliver their babies. Having just had a child herself, Kirpan said she was "honored" to make masks for them.
Now Kirpan and her partner, who is in the thick of his final online nursing exams, are taking turns caring for Sylvester so they can both get their work done. When she finishes the first batch of masks, she'll start taking new orders.