One plus one equals three at new mask making company Unify.
Bali business prodigy Hanalei Swan has partnered with fashion designer Jesseca Scheck to create a mask-making outfit called Unify — and now employs a hundred people in an ethical company that values unity and sustainability over sharp practice.
“When COVID-19 hit back in March I had close the doors to my fashion studio HS Styles because no one was buying sustainable fashion,” said Hanalei. “It was sad and difficult.”
She met 37-year-old Canadian Jesseca Scheck, whose fashion brand Sea Dragon Studio had suffered a similarly abrupt demise due to the pandemic. Scheck had spent the previous decade building a company making unique clothes for festival goers at Burning Man and Coachella.
The two decided to put their talents together and create an entirely new company that would combine their values and expertise: the result was Unify.
“Masks help unify people, quite literally,” says Scheck. “They ensure that people can still see each other safely even during a pandemic.”
Today Unify employs 100 people making triple layer masks designed under advisement from an Infectious Diseases MD and an infectious disease specialist from Doctors Without Borders. Orders have come from around the world, including the Marvel franchise in Hollywood.
Their newest line features an innovative three-ply design using a variety of materials – an outside decorative layer, an inner replaceable 2.5m five-layer filter and finally a Luxury Bamboo Jersey layer that softly rests against the wearer’s face.
Yet Unify is more than just a mask company – it’s a business built on top of the strong moral foundations of its owners. Scheck and Swan knew the company couldn’t just be another mask-maker – it had to be a reflection of shared values.
“Unify is all about people helping people,” said Scheck. “We help artists, locals, women, children, employees, and everyone in between.”
“It’s always been in my nature to help people,” said Swan. “Since I started in business I developed the idea that I would use a part of my income to benefit other people of my age.”
Last year Swan’s company HS Styles donated 5,000 school uniforms to children in India. “Through my donations I have been able to help children get an education, think differently about their futures and be inspired to act on their passions as entrepreneurs. At the end of the day, that is what matters most to me.”
“I aim to change the way consumers look at fashion, and my mission is to involve and engage young people around the world, especially in places of poverty.”
“I want to help young people embrace new values that allow them to break out from established norms. Young people deserve a voice – we are the future and it is ours to own.”
San Diego-born Hanalei Swan began her involvement with business at the tender age of seven when her parents took her out of school and decided to abandon corporate life in order to travel the world.
“I’m the only Elementary School dropout I know,” says Hanalei, who by the age of 11 had already visited 48 countries and six continents. “At that time my parents asked me what I wanted to do – not when I was older and grown up, but right now.”
Like many young girls her age, she told them she wanted to design and make clothes. Her first venture into business began almost immediately.
“I borrowed $20 from mom and dad and I sewed together some cool key rings and sold them at their events. From that money I made enough to make my first fashion prototype,” says Hanalei.
There followed experiments in materials and styles, and a growing awareness of the problem of fast fashion and its impact on the planet.
“I was young but I was keenly aware of the environmental problems facing the world. We moved to Bali, and the plastic on the beaches was a daily reminder of how our lives were impacting the planet.”
Hanalei started HS Styles, deciding to work only with sustainable materials. Abandoning the cotton and rayon favoured by fast fashion companies, she decided instead to embrace bamboo as the basis for her clothes.
“Google ‘fast fashion’ and you’ll see piles of discarded clothes in landfills,” she says. “It takes 650 gallons of water to make a single cotton shirt. Multiply this a thousand fold and you’ll see how fast fashion brands have been slowly destroying our environment.”
Hanalei began using eco-friendly materials that don’t require pesticides and use very little water. “Bamboo limits soil erosion and even improves the soil’s fertility,” she says. “It also grows on its own and replenishes itself, so there’s no need to replant.”
The woody parts of bamboo are crushed and then natural enzymes are used to break the hard cylinder walls into a mushy mass so that the natural fibres can be mechanically combed out and spun into yarn.
Her business flourished and she became a regular speaker on international conference circuit in Australia, Hong Kong, India, London and other countries, and then in 2018 at a Ted Talk in Las Vegas.
Her message was always the same: abandon environmentally harmful production practices – and treat your workers with respect.
“I have always ensured my workers receive fair pay and benefits along with safe working conditions,” said Hanalei. Her conviction ran so deep that she once turned down a US$30 million investment from a Shark Tank venture capitalist that would have put her firmly in the game of mass production.
“The VC came to me and said ‘I like your business profile and I’m going to give you $30 million dollars and you are going to give me 70% of your company’. It would have meant outsourcing to China and India – to countries where working conditions and salaries are very low, and it would have meant going against everything I believe in. I said no.”