Fashioning a solution
Jul 15, 2020 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
So many things have changed recently. Hosting a party now means logging into Zoom rather than preparing a cheese tray. A night at the movies no longer involves paying extra for popcorn. Commercials and social media feeds are flooded with mask fashion instead of hyping the latest sales. I think it’s incredible that so many companies are shifting their focus. Brands that we recognize for shoes or handbags are now making super cute masks to protect our heroes and each other. All of this has got me thinking about other times in history where we’ve fashioned a solution.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating examples is Playtex’s role in the historic moon landing. It wasn’t an obvious match – a brand known for brassieres and boudoir fashion entering the world of science. Yet in the 1960s that is exactly what happened. For a moon walk, with the world watching, NASA couldn’t afford any mistakes. The stakes couldn’t have been higher and the first round of suit prototypes were big and bulky. Astronauts could barely move, let alone walk with inspiring confidence. NASA expanded their search. And with that a plucky crew from Playtex threw their hat in the ring. Their nontraditional background gave them a distinct advantage. Their suit showcased an understanding of the human body and its movements. The Playtex design was just as revolutionary as the mission itself. Made of layers of responsive fabric, the team showed off their efforts in a short film where a model runs up and down a football field. These were the graceful, nimble movements NASA wanted their astronauts to perform on the lunar surface.
When you read interviews with NASA brass the respect they have for the Playtex team is almost tangible. The women responsible for sewing every inch of the suits that went into space are true heroes. They were a special blend of creative talent, proficiency with a sewing machine, and an eye for absolute accuracy. Let’s break down the numbers. Each suit involved twenty-one layers of fabric. Each layer and every stitch had to be precise within 1/64th of an inch. The suits themselves would need to withstand temperature swings of hundreds of degrees and impacts from tiny materials traveling at 36,000 miles per hour. And did I mention? NASA also had a standard for the level of flexibility that must be maintained. Each astronaut was expected to be able to bend down and pick up an object as small as a dime. In other words, the astronauts had to be able to move more or less like they move on earth while on the moon. This was definitely no small task.
The brave women who worked on this project appreciated the significance of their work and so did the astronauts. As Neil Armstrong stated “Those space suits were mini spacecraft.” The team sewed with complete dedication and their focus paid off. There was not a single suit failure during the mission and because of this unique fashion an entire generation was inspired to reach for the stars. In the year 2020 we seem to have the stars at our very fingertips. Technology expands by leaps and bounds each year. But when we really consider the Apollo mission we see innovation in a different light. So many individuals carved our path to space with their bare hands. This unprecedented, technological quest was truly built on the contributions of real people, rather than microchips. Their blood, sweat, and tears paved the way for future advancements.
I can’t help but draw some parallels to our current situation. We again find ourselves in unprecedented times. The scale of this quest is global and while we wait for the scientific community to find a cure, there are everyday people making real strides to help. Once again the simple act of sewing has led the way. People and companies are sewing as an expression of love and a show of solidarity. The masks we don today don’t need to be held to the same strenuous standards as suits headed for the heavens, but perhaps they are just as important to future generations…