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New Hampshire Woman's Home Business Heads for the Stars
Many New Hampshire businesses use the Internet to sell their wares far beyond the state’s borders.
But a company in Plymouth is one of the few to have its products sent into outer space.
NHPR Correspondent Shannon Mullen has more.
MULLEN: By day, Kristin Valenti is a stay-at-home mother-of-three.
VALENTI: Hey Ben! They’re on the stairs (kid talking in background)
MULLEN: By night she’s employee number one - and only - for Monkey Foot Designs.
[SOT: bring up sewing machine, keep under]
Valenti started the company four years ago in her basement home-office, sewing belts and other accessories made from designer fabrics with colorful, hard-to-find prints.
Now business is booming with help from the Internet, and she ships her products all over the world.
VALENTI: If people knew (laughs) I’m just downstairs in my little home office, I do all my own packing, and I’m sewing away… The company honestly has just grown from word of mouth.
MULLEN: One of her best-selling products is fashionable, and functional.
Valenti calls it a wet bag.
VALENTI: I think it’s an excellent substitute anytime you need a plastic bag, aside from doggie poop.
MULLEN: The bags have fabric on the outside, a sealed waterproof lining that’s anti-microbial, and a zipper to lock smelly or wet stuff inside.
Dirty diapers, wet bathing suits, sweaty gym clothes...
Valenti says the reusable bags can be washed up to 1000 times before the lining wears out.
Kristin Valenti shows the bag she designed for NASA. (Shannon Mullen, NHPR)
Most of the people who buy them are parents with new babies or little kids, but around this time last year she got a custom order - from a woman at NASA.
VALENTI: So I just thought she works at NASA, she just wants her stuff shipped there because I’m sure she thinks it’s secure shipping because it’s NASA (laughs) versus her home, and it might get lost. It’s Christmas presents or something…
MULLEN: Valenti shipped the order and forgot about it… until the woman sent her an email asking if she could make the bags with drawstrings.
VALENTI: I emailed back and was very polite, and said well, I prefer the zippers because they tend to work better and customers prefer them. Then she wrote back saying, well the astronauts prefer them, you know, the drawstrings. I was just floored, Astronauts! What are you talking about astronauts!
FISHUK: We were tasked to develop a new waste bag for the international space station.
MULLEN: Jessica Fishuk is the NASA Aerospace Engineer who found Valenti’s company online, and tested her bags against other, similar products.
She says astronauts eat more than just those freeze-dried ice cream bars you can buy in science museum gift shops.
So they need a re-sealable trash bag that contains odors from wet food containers.
FISHUK:If you think about that, that’s going to smell after a period of time, just like your trash can at home. And so we were looking for something that was already commercially available, to save the government money, so that way we’re not developing something that’s already been developed.
MULLEN: Valenti worked with NASA for about 6 months to perfect a prototype.
The final product is only about the size of a half-gallon of milk, but the bags cost NASA 23-dollars each.
Valenti says that was mostly for labor and the expensive fire-retardant fabric NASA needed.
She usually sews custom orders herself, but this one was for 12-hundred bags, so she hired a California company to mass-produce them…
And the first round went into orbit with a shuttle that launched in September.
VALENTI: I still can’t believe I have a product up in space. You know, would you expect that, someone walking around my house, like, oh that person makes bags for NASA? (laughs) I change diapers, I cook, I clean, and at night I have this whole separate world… and it’s just really cool.
MULLEN: Valenti says NASA ordered a supply of her bags to last the space station until 2016.
The next shuttle that has them on board launches in January.
For NHPR News, I’m Shannon Mullen.