Jessie Wachter ’03 Makes a Meaningful Difference through JW Tiny Totes
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jessie Wachter ’03 suddenly found herself without a job for the first time in nearly two decades.
Before the pandemic, Wachter worked for Rustic Pathways, a student travel company, for almost 12 years. She had planned to find a new job in either the travel or marketing industry, but COVID-19 put her at a standstill.
“It took me a while to figure out,” said Wachter. She found herself asking, “Do I wait this out, do I just take this as a bit of a sabbatical, or do I take this as a sign that it’s a good time to re-examine my interests?”
Wachter went through a mourning process but tried to stay busy with projects like learning User Interface Design and renovating her home. Yet, nothing ignited her passion like her career had.
“The job hunt is kind of soul-sucking, especially during COVID. The market was so saturated, and the jobs were so few, especially in the areas I wanted to pursue.”
At the same time, Wachter was adapting to life in the pandemic and noticing it was easy to forget a reusable mask when she left the house. Yet, she was troubled by single-use masks. On one walk with her husband, she saw 14 disposable masks littered on the ground in two miles.
She created her business, JW Tiny Totes, to encourage the use of reusable masks and to make sure to never leave home without one.
“I’ve really tried to minimize my use of single-use plastics in the last several years,” she said.
An order from JW Tiny Totes includes a mask made with nylon and cotton, a tote to carry the mask, a synch, and a carabiner to attach to a belt, keychain, or bag. The tote and mask are durable, washable, compact, and can be personalized with initials or a graphic.
Wachter first shared the creation with her friends and family before realizing it was an opportunity for her to relearn online marketing. JW Tiny Totes allowed her to practice skills like logo design, website creation, and online advertising. Wachter put all of these aspects together after a month of work.
The most challenging part of this process was finding materials for the totes. She initially hoped to use recycled materials but hit a roadblock when her search came up empty.
“I was running out of recycled materials,” said Wachter. She opted to use a durable nylon material made by Ottertex, a company that takes its carbon footprint into consideration.
With JW Tiny Totes, Wachter found the passion she was missing early in the pandemic. Although creating a small sewing business may not seem connected to two decades of traveling the world for work, for Wachter the core values are the same. Wachter's interests in sustainability and travel are born out of curiosity and love for the planet and for people.
Wachter found an interest in travel and in protecting the environments she visits while she was a media arts student at Pacific starting when she studied in Vienna, Austria for her junior year.
The following summer she worked at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. That’s when Wachter realized what she wanted to do.
“Working around so many incredibly important, intelligent, intentional, passionate people made me decide, this is what I want to do,” she recounted. “I want to be in this international environment. I want to be where people are making decisions that affect people’s lives.”
Now Wachter hopes to use her business to educate people on the impact disposable masks have on the environment.
“It’s so easy to grab a disposable mask, use it once or twice, throw it away, and not think about the impact you’re having on the environment,” she said. “[The amount of trash in the environment] has nearly doubled since the pandemic because of personal protective equipment."
Never one to stay still for long, Wachter is eager to see her passion project grow. As she continues to focus on individual sales, she is also interested in forming larger partnerships, with teams or with school districts — always with a singular goal in mind — to protect the planet she has grown to love through two decades of international travel.
“That’s really my motivation; to see fewer [single-use masks] in the gutters and give people an alternative,” said Wachter. “One person can make a small, but meaningful difference.”