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Small businesses producing everything from lip gloss to fuel cells have pivoted their entire operations in just days to produce all types of personal protective equipment. Read how these agile companies are creating new products—or turning up the dial on their everyday efforts—to do their part:
- Kitsbow, a cycling apparel company in North Carolina, quickly switched their production teams from making cycling jerseys to making PPE. “We have a computer-controlled fabric cutter, and computer-controlled laser cutter, and are able to make all the parts in just a few hours for a thousand face shields,” said Kitsbow CEO David Billstrom, who was a first responder for 38 years. Production of 26,000 face shields and face masks began Monday, and they already have a backlog of orders.
- Three years ago, cosmetics company Garb2Art did a one-off product line making hand sanitizer for local hospitals and subscription diabetes kits. Two weeks ago, owner Dawn Andrews was asked if she could make hand sanitizer again. “Customers were begging for it,” Andrews said. She went to work completely changing her production process, expanded her staff from five to 25, and made her $20,000 investment in alcohol and bottles back in one day. Garb2Art sold 50,000 bottles during the first week of production, and this week plans to double that.
- Sweaty Bands, known for their no-slip activewear headbands, is taking the materials that once ended up as headbands and making them into face masks. They’ve already sent a bunch to Tennessee hospitals, and although the masks aren’t medical grade, owner Doug Browning believes the same people who buy headbands will want to buy masks to protect themselves in the general public. The brightly colored masks are also washable and reusable
- Emily Walker, plant manager at Brookville Glove Manufacturing in rural Pennsylvania, was prepared to furlough production workers last week when the state closed all non-essential businesses. Then, she got a call from a senior care provider asking if Brookville Glove could make face masks. “They’re doing everything they can to prevent the virus from coming in their doors and they needed protection yesterday,” Walker said. Brookville Glove is now humming with orders for masks that offer front-line health care workers some protection from getting COVID-19.
- Last week a hospital in New York City asked Kathlin Argiro, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the chief product officer at Altress, a small dressmaking company, if Altress could make face masks. “The masks themselves are actually pretty easy to make, especially for an experienced sewer, they’re really quite simple,” Argriro said. Altress pivoted, and the company’s seamstresses (all working from home) will churn out 1,000 masks this week.
- Last week, Bloom Energy Chief Executive KR Sridhar realized his California fuel-cell business, which repairs old fuel-cell power generators, could help alleviate the state’s shortage of ventilators. After talking with the governor’s office, Bloom Energy picked up 24 old ventilators, stockpiled by the state from the H5N1 outbreak in the mid-2000s, and within 24 hours a small team of employees had refurbished them all. Once certified, the machines will be put to use in hospitals.
- In Kentucky, Bullard, a company that makes safety equipment, hard hats, fire helmets, and respiratory protection, is now working around the clock to produce highly sought-after products like face shields for healthcare workers. Based in the county where the state's first coronavirus patient was detected, the company quickly stepped up to answer the need. "We've been ramping up capacity tremendously. We are manufacturing more than five times more than we were previous to this pandemic, and still trying to increase the capacity every day," said CEO Wells Bullard.
- Wyoming Machine, a Minnesota company that produces small metal plates for ventilators, was asked to double their annual production. The company typically makes 5,000 plates per year to send to a ventilator manufacturing company, but has been asked to do 10,000 before April — and that request could grow, said co-President Lori Tapani. Lori and her sister and co-president Traci say they’re up for the challenge and proud to continue their role as critical infrastructure.
- In Washington, Jeff Kaas and his team at Kaas Tailored normally manufacture furniture, but last week Kaas began collaborating with Providence St. Joseph to see if he could pivot his factory to making personal protective equipment. Providence came up with a mask blueprint, and Kaas shifted his team from loveseats and lighting to surgical masks. Fifty staff members made 5,600 masks in just two days. “It’s been crazy,” Kaas said. Kaas Tailored then put out a 100 million mask challenge, sending a play-by-play video on how to construct the masks to manufacturers in 25 other states.
- Several central Kentucky and Louisville distilleries have shifted their operations to making hand sanitizer. Brown-Forman distilleries Woodford Reserve and Old Forester in Louisville delivered 6,000 bottles last Friday to local medical teams and emergency responders – and will continue to produce as they have the supplies. “We consider this a donation to those on the front lines of this pandemic and a small token of our appreciation,” said Elizabeth Conway, a spokeswoman for Brown-Forman.
For more information on how businesses of all sizes are stepping up efforts to combat the coronavirus and produce personal protective equipment for healthcare workers locally, nationally and globally, visit our tracker.