Dressmaker swaps marriages for masks as demand grows for quirky designs

Community focused: Cowaramup Local Kate Tarrant in her studio, where she has been sewing up a storm as orders come flooding in. Photos: Supplied

Community focused: Cowaramup Local Kate Tarrant in her studio, where she has been sewing up a storm as orders come flooding in. Photos: Supplied

When Cowaramup local Kate Tarrant's bridal dressmaking business stalled in the wake of a flood of pandemic-cancelled weddings, life was looking "pretty grim".

"My husband, who works in hospitality, wasn't working due to the restrictions, and we also had a newborn," she explained.

As mask-wearing became a requirement for visitors and locals in the South West, Ms Tarrant began researching and experimenting, aiming for the perfect cloth mask.

Kate Tarrant's masks are available in a wide and ever-changing array of bright prints and colours.

Kate Tarrant's masks are available in a wide and ever-changing array of bright prints and colours.

"I was drafting patterns for a mask that would be comfortable and washable and wouldn't drive me crazy," she said.

"My mum chimed in and requested a design that wouldn't fog up her glasses.

"After many prototypes and a patient husband being used as a model, I designed one that worked for me."

"Margaret River has decided that if we have to wear masks, we may as well rock them in style."

Kate Tarrant, Wolf Kin Studio

The mask was made from a fabric covered in pineapple print, and locals soon began asking Ms Tarrant where they could buy one.

As word spread and demand for the quirky designs grew, the talented dressmaker - who studied costume production and design at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) - had to find new ways to keep up, while maintaining the required safety standards.

"I can't assume that my research alone will qualify me to make the call on mask effectiveness and safety," she said.

The masks are manufactured to standards laid out by Australian State governments, using a special, 3-layer model designed to stop glasses fogging up, and mask fatigue.

The masks are manufactured to standards laid out by Australian State governments, using a special, 3-layer model designed to stop glasses fogging up, and mask fatigue.

"People much more informed than me are providing scientifically based recommendations to the Australian Government, so I used information provided to the public by the Dept of Health and the State governments to inform my decisions.

"There are pdfs on their websites with clear instructions for constructing fabric masks and these were the basis for my 3-layer model and my fabric choices.

"I knew I could leverage these and be confident that proper research and testing had been done."

Supply chain issues don't stop at the supermarket, and some materials became scarce.

"Some materials that comply with recommendations are not effective in keeping the mask shape, or are harder to breathe through, or are very expensive in bulk.

"Some materials I started to use for my inner layer, and then couldn't source again, so there have been a few different iterations of the 'mask recipe'.

"The best thing I can do is be transparent with my customers about what I'm using, update the descriptions as soon as I change a material, and allow them to make their own decision.

"For example, PPE fabric is not the only material to use for the water-resistant layer in face masks, but recent communications about Omicron recommend it over other synthetic materials.

Kate Tarrant says demand for plain, dark masks was high initially, but in 2022 customers have embraced bold and bright prints.

Kate Tarrant says demand for plain, dark masks was high initially, but in 2022 customers have embraced bold and bright prints.

"For this reason, I have created a line of premium masks that have an additional fourth layer of PPE so people have that option if they are concerned.

"Ultimately, it is up to the customer to decide if my masks are right for them."

Locals struggling with the comfort and disposable nature of store-bought masks sought out Ms Tarrant's designs, which offer more room around the mouth, and can be fitted for smaller faces.

The masks start at $15 for kids sizes, and $20 for adults.

"They're just much more comfortable than other masks I've tried," said repeat customer, Ian Smith.

"I wear glasses and have to deal with the dreaded fogging. Kate's designs are easy to wear, and she was so easy to order through and deal with any adjustments."

Ms Tarrant said her masks contained a cotton lawn lining for maximum comfort.

"The lining was important to me - there are cheaper fabrics I could have used, but lawn is so soft and absorbent," she said.

"People also love the prints... sloths have been in high demand!

"The funniest thing is that initially, people mostly wanted plain black or navy.

"My crazy fabrics didn't really sell.

"This year, it's all about the funky ones. The sloths and giraffes and skulls and grapefruits are selling like hotcakes.

"Margaret River has decided that if we have to wear masks, we may as well rock them in style."

While masks have been mandated for Perth and Peel for a number of weeks, it was only recently that the South West was included, following a number of positive cases visiting the region.

Hours after the announcement was made, Kate Tarrant's phone started running hot with locals seeking a more comfortable alternative.

"The day they announced the first exposure site in the south west, my husband just said, 'I'll put the boys to bed. I think you're needed in the studio'." she said.

"I checked my phone and almost fell over with the number of orders placed through my website."

She currently has a 2 to 4 day turnaround for orders, with a number of students from her regular dressmaking classes offering to help.

"The best thing to do is just manage expectations.

"Where my turn-around time is going to be longer than usual, I just update the website and let people know.

"Customers have been fantastic and are happy to wait for the mask that they want.

"At the moment I'm doing long days but I can't complain.

"Any time I get to sew and create in my studio makes me happy.

"Hopefully, one day we won't need to wear masks anymore, and I can start making a whole bunch of other sloth, giraffe and grapefruit covered things for my customers!"

For more information on Kate Tarrant's dressmaking, classes and to order masks, visit www.wolfkin.com.au or www.facebook.com/wolf.kin.studio

This story Dressmaker swaps marriages for masks as demand grows for quirky designs first appeared on Augusta-Margaret River Mail.