Pressure’s Off

Senior business student Maggie Knier and two new products to her home business.

Two graduating seniors have been spending their isolation time manufacturing safety devices to help healthcare workers stay comfortable in the frontlines against the coronavirus.

Face mask straps attach on side buttons instead of ears. Senior Maggie Knier has been busy creating both products.

Maggie Knier has for the past several years run a small business, 2True Headbands, from her Mankato home near campus making unique, long-lasting headbands and selling them online. The Minnesota State Mankato senior actually won the school’s annual entrepreneur award, the Big Ideas Challenge, in 2019.

Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic hit and face masks use became widespread, Knier heard of healthcare workers wearing headbands similar to hers but with buttons attached to prevent face mask straps from chafing ears. And she heard more were in demand.

It was like ‘Hey, I can make that,’” she said. “I already have hundreds  of headbands made. I have a bunch of buttons…” and a new product was born to her line of production.

“The button is on the headband right where the ear is, so you loop the elastic of the band over the button and then it’s attached to the button instead of the ears,” Knier said.

Josiah Geiger

Mechanical engineering senior Josiah Geiger, has been using his 3D printer to manufacture ear guards that can also ease the pressure on the ears from face masks used for hours on end by medical staff. The ladder-like device is paced behind the head, and holds a mask’s elastic strips instead of hooking them to the ears.

“Your ears aren’t made to have weight hanging on them or pressure, so these health care workers are having a hard time, dealing with that day in and day out,” he said. “It’s like picking a scab. You already have this soreness and you put something else on there and wear it for eight hours a day…”

Depending on the size needed, Geiger can make between seven and nine guards at a time, with each 3D printing session taking about three hours. He’s been sending shipments to the Mayo clinics in Mankato and Rochester, as well as friends and family members.

Knier’s inventory allowed her to make not only the headbands but face masks as well, and the demand, she said, has been staggering. Since April 4, when she put the first of the two products online, she’s been putting in 15-hour days at the sewing machine. By the third week in April she had received nearly 400 orders, at one point getting 42 orders in one day.

“I wake up at 9, sew all day until 4, go to the post office with those orders, then from that point I’m sewing until 1 a.m.,” she said. “Which is not something that can last, but I don’t really have anything else going on.”

For every order, Knier will donate one face mask to a Minnesota healthcare provider. She’s stockpiling the donations and will send her first bulk order out soon.