Sewing their colours

Sherrie Kearney. Photo: Submitted

Maritime Tartan Company, owned by Dale and Sherrie Kearney, made a quick shift when COVID-19 first arrived in Nova Scotia.

“When we saw that there was going to be a need of masks, we knew there wasn’t many in the marketplace once the pandemic hit,” says Dale. “Sherrie decided to stop doing everything else and switch over to doing the masks. She made a couple of prototypes, and we posted them online and on her Facebook page. People said, ‘Yes, I need one,’ and it went from there.”

Their home-based North End business hasn’t had a pause since.

With 500,000 people visiting their website since the pandemic began, Maritime Tartan Company has been sewing thousands of masks in various designs, all made with three layers of Health Canada approved fabric. Creating the masks is a five-stage process, including cutting fabric, sewing, and adding elastics.

During the first wave of the pandemic, they had extra fabric from now-cancelled orders, and sold 1,500 masks. That’s a big undertaking for a one-person production line.

“At times we had to shut our page down—we couldn’t take any more [orders],” Sherrie says. “We had 800 to 900 masks on order at one time, and it’s just me doing all that sewing. People don’t realize that you have to cut up all that fabric and put all the pieces together before getting the final product. It takes time … We tell our customers you will have your masks in your mail in 10 days.”

At the time of writing this article, Maritime Tartan Company has produced 23,412 masks, donating $29,568 to charities and causes that have been struggling during the past 15 months.

“We like to help people,” Dale says. “When this all started, we thought about it and said, ‘Well, there’s going to be some people needing help, they’re going to need help with food banks and stuff like that.'”

They’ve donated to 22 different charities, including local shelters, Legions, community centers, Christmas Daddies, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Dr. Robert Strang (left) and Sherrie Kearney. Photo: Submitted

Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Office Dr. Robert Strang has helped with the fundraising. After the mass shooting last year, Sherrie sewed a pair of Nova Scotia tartan ties for Strang and the premier to wear during media briefings. When Strang went to pick up his order, he signed a mask and tie to be raffled off for a local shelter.

The winner of the mask and tie donated it back to Maritime Tartan to raffle off again, this time with the proceeds going to the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. The two events raised $3,200.

As vaccines roll-out and demand for masks drops, they’re scaling back that side of the operation. The familiar tartan products from pre-pandemic life are returning. Recently, Sherrie spent a weekend sewing 44 blankets to fulfill orders.

The Kearney’s are glad to be finishing up with the masks, but they hope life doesn’t quite return to how it was pre-pandemic.

“I hope [people] see that small local businesses have a lot to offer,” Sherrie says. “Sometimes small local businesses are forgotten about due to online big-box shopping. You can get a lot of beautiful, unique handmade items right here in Nova Scotia. We have a huge amount of talented people in this province.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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