Leather crafter pivots production from medieval to medical accessories in COVID-19 fight
Skapa Leather donates 3,000 MEER band mask adjusters for medical workers and individuals
Leather crafter and artist Ginny Guedes relocated her Skapa Leather shop from Oklahoma to Marion County, West Virginia, in 2019. Skapa is an Old Norse word meaning to make, craft or create.
“Leather is to me what watercolor may be to a painter,” said Ginny. “I have the opportunity to create art, but do so in a durable medium that creates usable goods.”
The shop quickly earned a reputation for historically authentic high quality leather belts, pouches and armor in demand by cosplay and Renaissance festival enthusiasts.
Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Skapa Leather has received recognition for a more modern product: MEER safety mask adjusters. The user can loop the mask’s loops into the leather MEER band instead of around the ears, relieving soreness and pressure from hours of wear.
Coronavirus impacts business and community
So far this year, five events Skapa Leather would normally attend have been cancelled, a blow to the company’s revenues. Leather has become harder to get because suppliers have had to reduce staff and cut hours.
Ginny saw how the pandemic affected not only Skapa Leather, but the lives and other businesses in her community.
“I wanted to find a way to help,” she said. “I saw that other groups were printing 3D plastic mask extenders and thought leather would be a more comfortable medium for long hours of use.”
She developed the leather extender that she could produce in her own shop. The original idea was to make 100 MEER bands and donate them to West Virginia Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.
“I decided to post about them online and start accepting orders with the option to make a donation toward the cause,” Ginny said.
Making the MEER adapters required a modification in Ginny’s usual approach.
“Shifting gears to produce something for medical workers has been the most significant change I’ve experienced,” she said. “Normally, I spend hours on each piece I make, crafting costume items for Renaissance Faires. To go from that to manufacturing thousands of one item is a definite change. Even though this type of product isn’t what I normally make, it still fits the Skapa Leather mission of making quality leather goods that are inclusive and support a variety of people.”
Focus on what we can do
The Skapa Leather mask extenders have been donated to hospitals, nursing and rehabilitation facilities, doctor’s offices, veterinary hospitals, convenience stores and first responders, as well as to private individuals.
“I didn’t put any quantity limits on them because I just really wanted to get them in people’s hands,” she said. “I had orders as large as 200 and others as small as one.”
As of last count, Skapa Leather has produced and donated around 3,000 leather extenders. Requests are still coming in from West Virginia and other states around the country.
“It has made me grateful for the opportunity to be able to help,” Ginny said. “Mister Rogers said that we should look for the helpers in times of crisis and I wanted to be one of the helpers. It is so easy to become overwhelmed by what we can’t do and what is unknown, but this has given me the opportunity to focus on what I can do to help.”
Other people and groups across the state have joined efforts to help.
“West Virginians care,” she said. “My customers were looking for a way to help in all of this uncertainty and they found it in helping provide these bands. I couldn’t have made this kind of impact without their help. Without their donations, I would have run out of leather and not have had the resources to get more.”
The effects of the pandemic may reverberate through the economy for years to come.
“The small businesses in my area have taken a hard hit and many of them have a difficult road ahead. I just hope we can all help each other and come out of this stronger,” Ginny said. “I am hoping for the best and will continue to push forward to find new avenues and outlets for my goods.”
In fact, Skapa Leather has already created a new product line aimed at helping individuals minimize contact with public surfaces as restrictions relax. Wood or acrylic hooks small enough to fit on a keyring allow users to pull open doors, push buttons or use shopping carts without direct surface contact.
Despite the hard work with her recent MEER project and the uncertainty about what may come next, Ginny said the efforts have been worthwhile.
“Even if I am able to help just a few people, I know that I’ve done something to make their lives a little easier,” she said. “I would do it all again in a heartbeat.”