May 2016: Feature Story

Sky Skarf takes flight

Amber Stevens, left, and Heather E. Hlad are creators of the Sky Skarf. The product, which provides comfort when traveling, was launched with help from Clarkson University’s Shipley Center.

Amber Stevens, left, and Heather E. Hlad are creators of the Sky Skarf. The product, which provides comfort when traveling, was launched with help from Clarkson University’s Shipley Center.

Lewis women turn airline discomfort into entrepreneurial venture

By Alan Rizzo, NNY Business

When they invented a silk scarf to make traveling by air a warmer, quieter, more germ-free experience, Lewis County residents Heather E. Hlad and Amber Stevens never expected that their invention would get as much feedback as it has, and be used for purposes outside an airplane cabin.
Marketed under the brand name Sky Skarf, the “skarves,” which hit the market this spring, are made to give airline passengers more comfort on flights and “enjoy the journey, not just the destination,” according to a recent Clarkson University release.

As demonstrated on the Sky Skarf website, they can be folded in half and wrapped around the neck to provide support, or wrapped unfolded around the ears to block loud noises, and over the mouth and nose to protect against the sicknesses of nearby passengers.

Ms. Hlad and Ms. Stevens said the skarves, which are made of a silk/polyester fabric and come in a variety of colors and patterns, sell for $35, and have a multitude of uses.

Ms. Hlad said she hatched the idea for the skarves while stuck on a runway in Germany, waiting for her plane to take off.

“I’m an international sales manager, and I’ve taken a lot of really long uncomfortable flights,” she said in the release. “In 2013, I was on a flight leaving Munich. The plane was grounded for eight hours straight because of a snowstorm. While I was stuck on the plane, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to relax if I could just get comfortable.”

When she got home, she started brainstorming prototypes using her grandmother’s sewing machine, and soon the Sky Skarf was born.

Ms. Hlad, a Lowville native, said so far things are going spectacularly for Sky Skarf, indicating that they have sold “hundreds of units” through local craft fairs during the Christmas shopping season, their website, and have sent shipments to the Dominican Republic and to buyers in Europe.

While the skarves are intended for use by airline passengers, the women said many customers have told them the skarves have been especially helpful for making cancer patients, and others who must sit for long periods, comfortable.

“People who are enjoying this product who have medical issues that cause them to have to sleep upright,” Ms. Hlad said. “They’re enjoying this as well, so not only are we getting positive feedback from the traveler, we’re also receiving positive feedback for people using it as a comfort for recovery.”

Ms. Stevens, a Croghan native, said many positive customer responses have come from the caregivers of nursing home residents, and those who are going through cancer treatment.

“They’re very sedentary, so it just gives them the support and the comfort that they need while they’re sitting around getting their treatment,” Ms. Stevens said. “Also, for people who are out there who do have to sleep in an upright position, whether they’re recovering from a surgery, or if it’s just a condition that they have, they’ve also found that the Sky Skarf provides them with comfort as well. It helps them sleep better, relieves stress and headaches and different things like that.”

The women are presently using the Liverpool quilting business Just For Ewe to manufacture the skarves, but Ms. Hlad said as they grow, they want to include more local entrepreneurs in their production process.

“Right now what we’re doing is using a cottage industry, and giving people with those skills the opportunity to make the sky skarves for us,” she said.

To get their business off the ground, the women said they received help from Clarkson University’s Shipley Center, which helped them develop their business plan, conduct market research, and also created prototypes for them and helped them with 3D printing to develop future concepts.

Alan Rizzo is a Johnson Newspapers staff writer based in Canton. Contact him at arizzo@wdt.net or 661-2517.