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Local Shop Sassafras Sews Face Masks for Health Care Workers

Amy Tipton owns, Sassafras, a small business leasing commercial space from Bellwether Housing in The Oregon Apartments in Belltown.

Hi Amy! Tell me about your business, Sassafras.

Sassafras is a boutique that carries clothing, accessories, jewelry and art all made by local designers. The lower level of the store is a fashion design studio. We have seven in house brands that are made right here. We also run the Belltown Art Walk once a month.

What is Sassafras doing to respond to the pandemic?

We’re making face masks for the medical community. I’m making masks, and so are three other designers: Shari Noble from La Macón; Katy Flynn from KFLY; and Jenn Charkow from Stone Crow Designs, who was on the most recent Project Runway series.

How did you get connected to this project?

I got hooked into the Crafters Against Covid-19 Seattle Facebook group. You commit to sewing a certain number of masks from a certain pattern. The hospitals are requesting certain patterns for each different facility. I’m the downtown/Eastlake captain.

Tell me more about the process of making and distributing masks.

The process is very simple. Let’s say you sign up for 25 masks on the Facebook group. You pick up the materials from me at the shop, take them home, create the 25 masks, and then drop back off to me. There’s nobody coming inside the shop right now – we're doing no-contact drop offs at the door. I’m here in the afternoons sewing masks.

How many masks have you made so far?

I’ve made about 150 masks. With the other three Sassafras designers, maybe 500. With the other people in the community, it’s a lot more than that. People will drop off a 100 at a time. They’re so easy to make. Once you get it down, it only takes 2 ½ or 3 minutes a mask.

Where are you getting the materials for the masks?

I pick up the materials from the main organizer in Wallingford. She’ll put materials in a bin in her garage, so it is a no-contact pick up. I bought some materials from Joann’s before they closed their doors. I got a ton of muslin. One of the biggest shortages we have is elastic. We need thinner elastic, so we’ve gotten creative. We’ve been using elastic headbands that we cut up.

Who is receiving the masks?

Masks have gone to Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Portland Adventist Hospital, UW Medicine, Northwest Kidney Center Renton, In Tandem Midwifery and Sequim Emergency Operations Center. They’re being used by health care workers and patients. These are washable and reusable, too. They should stand up to 5-10 washes. We’re getting requests from baristas when we get takeout coffee.

How long has Sassafras been in The Oregon?

We’ve been here since 2012. The space used to be an architect firm. I sew and have produced my own clothing line in the past. I wanted a space where I could work at my sewing machine and see if a customer is coming in the door. I have a studio in the back of the retail shop where I can sew. Downstairs, there’s a 30-foot-long, cutting height table that the architects used for drafting that we use for cutting fabric. The set-up is perfect for independent designers to sew.

Was this your original concept for the store?

At first, I wanted to start a vintage shop with vintage clothing that we would re-work. I started selling at pop up markets with vintage clothing and my own clothing line. I noticed that were lots of independent designers who didn’t have a place to sell, other than those markets. It’s a big gap between graduating from design

school and being in Nordstrom. And some people

don’t want to do that – they want to keep their small line.

I decided to change the concept of the business to include those people. There’s so much incredible talent in Seattle and Portland. Everything we sell is from the Pacific Northwest, from designers in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver. The designers support each other. They're all women designers and artists.

How is your business doing financially with the shut down?

Not so great. Like with everyone, we have a much smaller percentage of sales than normal. We have an online shop. We’ve had some online sales. We’re creating packages – the staycation package, the work from home package, the unstoppable package, early Christmas shopping – if people want to support us.

How can people support Crafters Against Covid-19 and get involved in mask making?

You can help by donating materials. We need 100% woven cotton fabric and thin elastic. The fabric doesn’t have to be beautiful. It needs to be breathable, but thick enough you can’t see through it. People can also sign up to make masks through the Facebook group.

Thanks, Amy!


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