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A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: The Sassy Olive

Meg Day

Her long hair falling into her face while she was a hospital intern, Landria Christman got creative. Christman was living with her grandmother and said, “Hey Gram, show me how to use this old sewing machine you've got.”

Christman began to design and sew an assortment of colorful headbands. A business was born. The Sassy Olive, named after a favorite family puppy, opened in downtown Allegan in 2014. Christman tells how she built a thriving business that continued to grow even during a pandemic.

A conversation with Landria Christman

“I couldn’t find any headbands that fit my style and actually worked while I was either running around the hospital or bartending,” Christman says. “I had never sewn before that. I’d always been pretty crafty but had never sat down at a sewing machine. Gram set me up on her 40-year-old Viking sewing machine. I started wearing them, and the girls I was working with started asking about them, so I made some more. Ultimately, I opened up on Etsy and started making them in my parents’ basement on a ping-pong table.”

Olivia Hightower
Christman's store in downtown Allegan

As demand increased, Christman told her parents that it be nice to pay her graduate school tuition with the money she was making from her craft. When she was actually able to do so, Christman realized she was on to something.

Christman earned two degrees from the University of Michigan, in public health and epidemiology, but her success in the headband business was undeniable. More important, she was having great fun doing it. She opened a small store in downtown Allegan, where she grew up, and before long expanded to an even bigger space. She soon had 18 employees.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“It was a hard decision to make when we realized we had to close our doors and lay off all our employees. But I knew they would be taken care of and would receive unemployment,” Christman says. “And I’m seeing this mask shortage happening. I put a form on our website, "Hey, if you need masks, go ahead and fill out this form and we’ll be happy to donate masks to you.' We got 10,000 requests in less than a day.”

Christman put together a group of volunteers and got busy producing the masks. She started a fundraiser to finance the operation. Christman had soon donated around 35,000 masks to health care and front-line workers.

With her store open again using social distancing guidelines, Christman has made masks a part of her regular product line. She has created what she calls a "button mask," where the mask attaches to a headband with a button above each ear. She has also installed equipment to print her own designs, eliminating the need to send them out to be printed elsewhere. Shoppers can watch the process in her store window.

Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.
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