Jessica Hemmer Finds the Value of Her Work
She wants others to validate the importance of small-batch manufacturing.
by Annette Januzzi Wick
Jessica Hemmer of Hemmer Design became passionate about helping in the COVID-19 crisis long before the rest of the Cincinnati. Her brother lived in Japan and was a Type I diabetic. Protecting those in similar circumstances was of great concern.
She began our conversation by apologizing for missing my call by mere minutes. That’s how dedicated she is to advocating for small-batch design and manufacturing firms.
Jessica, a UC DAAP graduate, is an apparel designer and consultant who worked in materials and product development for the likes of Nike and Under Armour. After stints living elsewhere, she returned to Cincinnati.
When the COVID 19 crisis began, Jessica had been working through UC on designing PPE’s. She knew the biggest challenge to making protective gear was “in funding, in finding someone to make the purchases.” She needed to locate someone who held the purse strings.
“I connected with a group in NYC called the Urban Manufacturers Alliance (UMA).” She wanted their help in sourcing materials to make protective apparel.
Jessica excelled at connecting materials to manufacturers. However, challenges mounted. Once she had the materials—no one wanted to pay for the product. Governmental agencies sought out donated materials. So did hospitals. And that funding model wasn’t feasible for smaller manufacturers.
She partnered with West End-based Sew Valley co-founders, Rosie Kovacs and Shailah Maynard, who she knew through DAAP connections. Sew Valley was a local non-profit whose focus on was helping the materials entrepreneur, providing resources for prototyping and small batch manufacturing.
“Sew Valley has industrial machines, machines you can rent, classes.” Together, they started making PPE’s, following all the necessary safety protocols for them and whatever other products were being manufactured.
Jessica focus remains on the sourcing, prototype development and some marketing and sales. Through the coordinated effort with Sew Valley, they are producing urban-grade masks, the kind for everyday use by restaurants or retailers.
Currently, they’re making masks for the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition (GCMC), a contingent at risk, and also senior care facilities. While they typically wouldn’t donate their services, they have set up a GoFundMe campaign for GCHC, and a second campaign for Sew Valley through their own website.
“We just don’t have the capacity with staff and services to donate. That’s why it’s so important,” Jessica emphasizes, “to invest locally and strategically. We need others in the business community to validate our work and value it. It takes a certain skill level to produce these products.”
In the pause before concluding, I confessed to Jessica how we had met before. I mentioned, “I’m glad you’re here. Glad you’ve stayed. We need more of you.”
“It’s good to be here. To be a part of growing something. On the East Coast, the markets were already set. Here, I can be a part of the leadership.”
Through the Port Authority, she and a few others are looking at a larger format building to expand operations and add newer manufacturing studies. And in the future, there will be more options for community training programs.
In the interim, she’s also made hundreds of masks at home for family (her mother is one of eleven children).
“I’ve just rallied and really seen my purpose (just jumped in to help), it’s energizing. I’m a 2 on the Enneagram. I’m a helper.”
Before we concluded, Jessica weighed in again. “I really can’t stress enough, the importance of fair wages, of putting people to work.”
In times of crisis, communities need individuals with energy and passion who understand the needs of the neighborhood and surrounding entities. Jessica no longer worries about not knowing how to help or who to connect with. She solved her own problems and is prepared to tackle the larger societal ones with her vision together with that of Sew Valley.
OTR in Action: Donate to the campaign to produce masks for the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. https://www.gofundme.com/f/a2tjw-masks-for-the-homeless
Annette Januzzi Wick (annettejwick.com) is a writer and walker, connecting with the citizens and curiosities in her neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine and beyond.