Meet the Crystal Brook designer making stylish masks from her rural community

Nina Cousins’ company Thirteen Sisters started making masks after the COVID outbreak in Australia.

“Proudly designed and created in South Australia” is the motto of Thirteen Sisters, a company founded in 2017 by Crystal Brook resident Nina Cousins.

Cousins, mother of three and business of one, usually sells colourful handmade clutches, aprons, and laptop covers, but as of this year, much of her business has shifted toward face masks.

While Thirteen Sisters initially began making masks months ago during the outbreak in Victoria, orders skyrocketed locally last week after South Australia announced its lockdown.

Receiving more than 150 orders after the lockdown announcement, Cousins worked through nights and on weekends to keep up with demands.

“Masks aren’t something people can wait for; they need them now,” Cousins said.  

“A lot of people couldn’t go to work without them.”

Toni Pech, a Bowen therapist at Barossa Bowen, wears Thirteen Sisters masks to work every day because they’re mandatory for her job.

“Other masks made me sweat while I worked, but these are very comfortable and breathable,” she said. “And they look fantastic as well!”

Pech, who has four of Cousins’ masks, bought from the company because she likes to support local businesses.  

“I chose Thirteen Sisters because I know they’re a small, rural family business with a quality product,” Pech said.

“I wanted to help a local small business because I too am a small business owner.”

Tom Harslett, a Gladstone native and owner of three Thirteen Sisters masks, also bought from Cousins because of her quality reputation and country business status.

“I knew Nina was a local business owner with good products,” he said. “I think it’s important to support someone local instead of buying things mass-produced from bigger companies.”

Cousins began her Crystal Book-based company in 2017 after friends inquired about a handmade clutch she made for her daughter. She initially started designing part-time in addition to an administrative job, but she eventually devoted herself full-time to her business endeavor.

“Compared to administrative invoicing and paperwork, which can be mundane, creating is always new and always changing,” she said.

Cousins loves that her job––which she hesitates to call “work” because she loves it so much–– now requires creativity and adaptability to meet the demands of the time.

“My focus was clutches originally, and then aprons this year with the baking trend of lockdown, and now face masks because everyone needs them,” she said. “I always have to go with what’s happening around me.”

Thirteen Sisters now ships nationally, with many mask customers coming from Victoria, but when Cousins first started her business three years ago, her local community was her main support system and customer base.

“At the start, my customers were a lot more friends, family, or people who knew me,” she said. “With social media, it can go anywhere, but my custom orders are still mainly local.”

Harslett believes that his rural town upbringing is what influenced him to buy a mask early on, even before the lockdown rush.

“Being from small community and knowing everyone makes you more conscientious of wearing a mask,” Harslett said. “You know the old lady down the street––you’re not going to put her or anyone else at risk. That’s the country community mentality.”

Cousins hopes that going forward, South Australians will be more prepared for additional restriction waves.

“Hopefully people will think ahead after last week’s debacle and buy a mask just in case,” she said.

Harslett agrees.

“I’d recommend just getting a mask to protect the vulnerable, especially one from a local business like Nina’s,” he said.

Cousins says that even if South Australia doesn’t experience more restrictions, the masks will serve a purpose.

“If they don’t use the masks, at least they’ll have a souvenir from 2020,” she jokes.

To follow Thirteen Sisters, go to the business’ Facebook page, Instagram or buy online.

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