Buddy "Rocketman" Michaelson and his dad, Ky, usually make parachutes for sky divers and rocket launchers.
This year, the Bloomington-based family business has turned its focus to something less exotic, but potentially as lifesaving: making masks.
They've churned out more than 50,000 masks, many of which they've given away to health care workers, senior homes and homeless shelters. They've also started a shop, the Rocketman Face Masks storefront at the corner of Old Shakopee Road and France Avenue S., where they sell their $5 masks.
"If there's ever a time to wear masks it's right now, so we can help stop the spread," said Michaelson, who just turned 21 and goes by Rocketman, which is his legal middle name. "I just wanted to put my skills to use."
Back in March, friends who knew how much Michaelson loves to sew (he started at age 3) began asking him to make face masks for them.
He decided to ask a buddy at 3M if he could get some of the polypropylene filter material that the company uses to make N95 masks.
"Just a little bit, so I could make masks for my friends," Michaelson said. "All of a sudden he sent me a roll for 2,500 masks."
So Michaelson decided to launch a bigger operation, designing his Rocketman masks with three layers — two of cotton fabric and one of the polypropylene filter. (He's long since had to find new sources for polypropylene.)
After giving away masks and selling them out of his home, Michaelson had a few pop-up sales outdoors during spring and summer. He opened the store this past fall. (They have no store or factory for the parachutes. Father and son and their sewers work from home and sell online and through mail order.)
The Michaelsons use more than 500 different cotton fabric patterns in rotation — from Marvel superheroes to smiling Santas and poinsettias ("perfect stocking stuffer," Michaelson said) to religious themes. Right now, the most popular one is a style that makes it look like the wearer is smoking a cigar.
"I've got designs for everyone," Michaelson said. "Kids want to wear masks because it has their favorite character on there. It just keeps it fun for people — it's almost like a fashion statement."
Michaelson, who uses ripstop nylon to make parachutes, hadn't sewn with much "normal" fabric before the pandemic. He now loves hunting for new fabric patterns, stopping into every metro-area location of Jo-Ann Fabrics, he said.
"I'm going three, four times a week looking for what's new, what's in," he said.
In fact, he's such a regular customer and has donated so many masks that Jo-Ann recently named him one of their "Handmade Heroes," an award for sewers and crafters who donate what they make.
Still, Michaelson is looking forward to the day this side business venture dries up and he can get back to just parachutes again, he said.
"Ideally, when people stop wearing masks is when I know my job is done, because that means the pandemic is over," he said.
"That's the ultimate goal — to go out of business."
Erica Pearson • 612-673-4726