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Art meets COVID prevention at Alpacka Raft

Mancos-based raft business creates unique masks, raises funds for Creative District

Alpacka Raft is joining in the fight against the coronavirus – crafting style.

The Mancos-based packraft company has been crafting a variety of masks, brightly patterned and featuring air pockets for ease of breathing. All proceeds from sales benefit the Mancos Creative District.

“I’m proud to work here,” said Armida Huerta, who has worked at Alpacka for the past six years. She also serves as the vice president on the Mancos Creative District board.

Alpacka Raft closed its doors to boatmaking back in March, about a week and a half before the state’s closure orders came down. But once employees returned to work, the business – with efforts led by Alpacka co-founder and designer Sheri Tingey – decided to put its equipment to use in COVID-19 prevention efforts.

They started making medical gowns to support the Durango MakerLab’s efforts to create personal protective equipment for health care workers. The MakerLab provided materials and Alpacka the cutting machine, sewing labor and Tingey’s designer know-how.

They made between 600 and 700 gowns, and about 1,200 cut patterns to be sewn together by another team, Huerta said.

They wrapped up medical gowns in the spring, but have continued on by crafting masks for distribution, and to benefit the Mancos Creative District, since the pandemic canceled most of its events. Alpacka would handle the manufacturing side, while the Creative District would serve as distributor.

The masks feature a unique design from Tingey, who has been making clothes and patterns for decades, Huerta said. There’s a small bar in the front of the mask that creates an air pocket.

“So that when you’re talking, you’re not sucking in material the whole time,” she said. “And it gives you this little space of breathability.”

The ribbons that hold the masks up to a user’s face are made of “shock cord,” a pliable, somewhat elastic material used for some boat accessories, Huerta said, like the whitewater skirts.

They also paired the masks with T-shirts featuring a design created by local artist TJ Zark: a masked cowgirl wearing pink alongside the words, “Tough Enough to Wear Pink, Tough Enough to Wear a Mask.”

During the Mancos Farmers Market on July 2, local Coco Harrison was selling a colorful array of Alpacka-crafted masks for $5 apiece at the entrance to the Mancos Common Press building. Designs ranged from flowers to flamingos to four-leaf clovers.

“They’re really comfortable compared to other masks,” Harrison said.

Some other artistic mask-making endeavors are currently underway. The company and Mancos Creative District have launched a Mask-R-Aid project, where locals can decorate and adorn blank mask pieces and submit them to Alpacka Raft to be sewn into masks.

The final products will be auctioned off online to support the Creative District, or perhaps be sold in the new art vending machines at Fenceline Cider and Fahrenheit Coffee, Huerta said.

ealvero@the-journal.com