There are silver linings to the havoc that COVID 19 has wreaked on the business community on the Mid Shore. One local company, Spunkwear, a spandex apparel company based on Kent Island, decided to hit the challenge head-on by designing a new product just in time for the hot summer months when wearing masks could be challenging. Sheilah Ruppert, founder of Spunkwear, has designed a new line of masks that are lightweight, offering breathability and comfort, but which are also fun and stylish.
Ruppert comments, “Our masks are easy on the ears and don’t tend to fog up glasses – two big complaints about most masks available on the market today.”
Ruppert’s new business focus grew out of the challenge she found herself facing. She had designed printed fabrics for this season’s clothing line when production came to a halt after her Pennsylvania factory shut down. With retail businesses forced to close, her wholesale accounts began reducing and canceling their orders.
“We had such momentum after years of growth and success, any challenges along the way were nothing compared to COVID. I have been an entrepreneur my whole life and I knew it was time to switch gears and get creative,” she reflects.
“Along with every other quarantined sewer, I began making masks from my stash of quilt fabrics. I was also stitching buttons onto Spunkwear headbands and donating them to nurses whose ears were rubbed raw from the elastic on their masks. After daily requests from our customer base, I finally designed a comfortable mask using some leftover Spunkwear prints on board short fabric. With the help of a local stitcher, we would produce about 200 a day, which would sell out on our website within an hour.”
When the factory in Pennsylvania finally re-opened for “essential” goods only, Spunkwear’s mask production ramped up and the sales of Ruppert’s masks and neck gaiters took off.
Spunkwear’s popularity began after Ruppert designed a simple spandex dress with a sports bra top and an A-line skirt. She wore the dress to the weekend-long Maryland girls’ lacrosse tournaments, where she sold her goods from a tent. Moms’ requests to buy her “original” dress was the beginning of her women’s apparel line. With teams from around the country attending the huge Maryland summer lacrosse tournaments, the website sales spiked after the weekend when moms returned home and showed friends their Spunkwear dresses. Brand recognition came quickly and Spunkwear grew to include a dozen dress styles, skorts, tops, pants, tights, and accessories. The line is also sold under the wholesale label, Southwind Apparel.
“I am so appreciative of this opportunity and the response we’re getting to the masks. The feedback has been so positive. Over and over, we’re hearing that our masks are so breathable and less intrusive, especially in warm weather,” she remarks. “Our wide range of fun and pretty prints have helped lighten the mood around masks. We’re adding more prints each week and our customers are adding to their collections!”
Fabrics for both masks and neck gaiters include solids, whimsical and tropical prints, as well as Spunkwear’s signature crab and Maryland prints. Child size and larger men’s size masks have also been added to the line.
A portion of all mask sales goes to Haven Ministries, a local non-profit that provides shelter, clothing, food, and support to those in need in Queen Anne’s County. For more information about Spunkwear masks, contact Sheilah@spunkwear.com. You can see the available prints and solids by visiting Spunkwear.com and Southwindapparel.com.
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