During my Zoom interview with Kym Couch, I heard scissors cutting fabric and the humming of a sewing machine in my headphones. It was clear that there was hardly a moment where she didn’t see an opportunity to multitask. I saw a bookshelf behind her, against the wall filled with piles of neatly folded fabric. Between us (her camera and my screen) was an ironing board used as a makeshift table.
Before masks became available in stores, Kym felt an urgency to do what she could to help provide masks to her friends. She bought hundreds of dollars worth of fabric and got to work with her sewing machine. She began by asking her friends if they wanted masks and she let them choose which kind of fabric they would like. She heard how hard it was to get people, and especially toddlers, to wear masks, so she thought of a way to get them to want to wear them. “If people see them as something that is theirs, their own thing that they picked for themselves in exactly the style and fabric they like, they are going to wear them. It can be hard to get kids to do something they don’t want to do, but if you put Paw Patrol on their face, they’re gonna be stoked. That’s something I care a lot about.”
A little backstory about Kym. She moved to Boise from Maine in 2012 without ever having visited, knowing anyone, or having been this far west in her life. She’s always made herself busy since she was a kid. I’ve known her for about 8 years and in that time, I’ve seen her take on more hobbies and side gigs than anyone I know—all while working full-time and getting her BA, MA, and soon her PhD in Public Policy and Administration at Boise State. But Kym’s side gigs aren’t just things she does for money. They are just Kym. “I’m a doer. The thing about this pandemic and staying at home is that it is hard for me as a doer. It’s emotionally exhausting if I don’t have something to do. I have work and my political science classes, but I needed something else, and something that I could feel good about. It was my way of feeling less helpless.”
“I am making 30 masks for a space-themed wedding coming up, and I’m really excited about these. I want them to be perfect. Out of all the masks I make, the ones for weddings are my absolute favorite. I know that I am, in a small way, a part of an event that spreads joy, while also helping people be safer, and that makes me so happy.”
Besides being busy making masks, Kym also has a successful YouTube channel. She has helped grow and support an entire sport (quidditch) both locally, regionally, and globally. She loves helping teach others about finances. She recently started a company that hosts online gaming tournaments, the idea for which she won 1st place at the recent Venture College Side Gig Pitch Competition. “I get bored really easily. I have a really active brain, and I like to be doing things I can multitask at. If I’m making masks, I’m also listening to audiobooks, watching TV, or using an app that scans PDFs and speaks it to me so I can do readings for homework that way. I don’t like slowing down. I don’t use my full name because it takes too long to say!”
Kym’s dog, Piglet, started pawing at her leg as we were talking. She bent over, held him up, and said that he must have recognized my voice. I doubt it. “This is one good part about working from home, I get to be with my dogs ALL THE TIME.”
From Kym’s humble beginnings of providing her friends with some masks, she’s been able to expand her mask-making shop on Etsy much more than she anticipated.
“I have 194 fabrics, 41 masks on my to-do list, and I’ve shipped 1226 masks to all 50 states in the country, and 10 other countries,” (Australia, South Korea, England, Serbia, Iceland, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, and Belgium). “People get excited about things that are custom made. With my masks, they get to choose the style of mask, the fabrics, 8 different ways to strap it, and 9 different types of straps and in different colors.”
Another fun fact about Kym: she’s a wizard with spreadsheets. She made an interactive map with a point for every city she’s shipped a mask to. It’s amazing to me to see the real impact she’s having in one tiny snapshot.
“I had a repeat customer tell me about her toddler that loves wearing her masks I made for her. I made one mask that had books and bookworms on it for the mom, and the toddler was so excited about her mom’s mask, that she had to put in an order to get the same mask for the toddler. That definitely makes me so happy. That’s what I want to see. That’s why I started selling them.”
As an aspiring doer myself, I’ve always wondered how Kym stays motivated to keep doing.
“Think about why you want to do the thing—if you remember why you’re doing it—if it’s a passion, or if it’s because you have a goal to get out of debt, you’re going to want to do it. Also realize that if you’re having a hard time sticking with it, it doesn’t mean you’re not excited about it. Sometimes that’s how it is. You don’t always have to be hustling. I still know how to take a break.”
In the home stretch of this semester, Kym will be wrapping up her classwork, working on her dissertation proposal, and will be continuing to work remotely for the foreseeable future. All the while, I imagine, her shelf in the background will be kept full of fabrics that will soon delight the many strangers and their children across the country. One day, hopefully soon, that shelf can hold books again. Until then, her sewing machine will be humming along, as a nearly constant sound in the household.
By Mike Taylor