DULUTH, MN -- Natalija Walbridge has searched long and hard for her business' purpose.
"I had been for a long time designing the artwork, but I never actually did my own printing which was a learning curve," Walbridge said.
Walbridge owns Dock 5, which is a fiber arts studio on Park Point in Duluth.
Walbridge makes functional bags with personality with artwork inspired by her surroundings.
"From the beginning, I thought I want to be about this place, about Duluth, about Lake Superior, the North Shore, and through my artwork, I want to connect with other people that love this area and all the special things about it," she said.
Walbridge sees the process from start to finish.
She designs the shape of the bag, makes the artwork, and screen prints all by herself.
Her business was a well-oiled machine until life threw a curveball.
When the pandemic began, operations shifted dramatically at Dock 5, but the business was able to find a new purpose all because of a face mask.
"I immediately set all of my bags aside literally the next day and just started cutting up all of my inventory to make into masks," Walbridge said.
Walbridge devoted the following months to full-time mask making.
Walbridge said she has lost track of how many masks she has made, but it is at least more than 1,000.
When masks were hard to come by at the start of the pandemic, Walbridge made and donated them to local hospitals and housing shelters.
Life House in Duluth received a donation from her.
"We did receive a donation and we were extremely grateful for the masks because early on the pandemic it was really difficult to access masks and make sure that we had enough for particularly our young people," Life House Executive Director Jordon Johnson said.
In making and donating masks, Walbridge met a community's need in dire times and saw years of hard work come to fruition.
"I always worry 'Am I doing the right thing? Should I be doing this instead of that?' And for once it was just crystal clear for me what I needed to do," Walbridge said.
Walbridge found her purpose through helping others.
"Even though that pandemic year was so hard for so many people, I personally will be looking back on it as some of the best days of my life just because I was able to use my skills in a bigger way than I ever imagined I could before," she said.
Dock 5 is located at 2311 Minnesota Ave. on Park Point.
They are open Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekdays by appointment.
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