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As local corporations and small businesses alike struggle to increase consumer demand and find new modes of creating revenue, many have shifted toward a means of making payroll and helping the community—manufacturing medical masks and supplies.
Though the fashion industry has arguably been the sector most heavily involved in the movement thus far, local companies across industries who have the materials, resources, and space needed to create masks, gowns, scrubs, and sanitizers are pooling resources to ensure employees get paid.
Local small businesses—including Harkensback, Pink Pedi, Leather Sofa Company, and Massoud furniture—are joining big names, such as Neiman Marcus and Toyota, in the effort. The shift is not a profitable one for many business owners, but rather, one that helps delay or prevent layoffs and pay cuts.
“Pink Pedi doesn’t make any profit from any of this stuff,” says Lucy Dang, co-founder of Dallas’ nail salon. “It goes toward our people.”
From Beauty Essentials to Healthcare Essentials
Dang realized she could use the alcohol and glycerin that Pink Pedi had for cleaning its implements and creating bath bombs to produce hand sanitizer shortly after the City of Dallas ordered all salons to close. “I said, ‘I can do hand sanitizer, and I will keep you guys somewhat financially solvent as long as I can,'” says Dang, whose 15 nail technicians essentially lost their jobs when salons closed.
Many of her technicians, who were independent contractors, have jumped in to help produce the sanitizer Dang dreamed up as well as the masks and gowns that she has partnered with local fashion-industry players to create. Her connections from a former career in fashion have been vital.
“It so happened that one of my core clients does manufacturing for apparel,” says Dang. “We were about to launch another line for me, but this came through, and I said, ‘[With] all that fabric that we have, let’s make face masks.'”
Together, Dang and her fashion-industry partner’s team plan to produce 100,000 face masks in six weeks.
“We are cutting one thousand units at a time,” says Dang.
The masks that Dang and her partner’s team produce are washable—an element of appeal to the medical community during a shortage—and worn over the N95 surgical masks to preserve those, which cannot be washed.
Last week, Dang sent a shipment of masks to Baylor Scott & White, and with the help of the Oak Cliff community, she hopes to continue to produce masks throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
“The Oak Cliff community has donated and sponsored masks, so we can prepare more fabric, more supplies, and keep this engine going,” says Dang. Small businesses and corporate sponsors have helped Dang as well.
Though she has received several fabric and mask donations, a shortage of bottles has hindered Dang from making more sanitizer.
“We were able to do 500–1000 bottles,” she says.
For other businesses making a similar shift, elastic has proven the product ingredient in short supply. Dang is hoping to receive more elastic from Germany. Still, Mitch Lurie, CEO of local furniture purveyor, Leather Sofa Company, has run into issues with domestic suppliers limiting the amount of elastic he can buy.
From Cushions to Coverings
“Elastic is a problem,” says Lurie. “We did find somebody who will sell elastic, but they will only sell us three rolls per day.”
As seamstresses, Lurie’s employees are well-suited to mask production and hope to be making surgical jackets and other medical supplies soon. He charges two dollars for every mask he sells and produces roughly one thousand masks daily in the hopes that the little money earned will pay his staff.
“Regularly, I have 40 employees,” Lurie says. “I’ve had twelve come in yesterday and six today.”
City of Lewisville workers came to shut Leather Sofa Company down last week, but when they realized he was making masks, they left Lurie’s team to their new work.
“When people realize what we are trying to do, people have been unbelievable,” Lurie says. He and his team shipped their first order to a local oncology department last week.
For both Lurie and Dang, business stopped entirely with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, even larger Dallas-based companies, arguably less impacted by the downturned economy, are getting behind the mask-making movement: Toyota and Neiman Marcus have both joined the effort.
Big Businesses Offer Big Help
Neiman Marcus, in partnership with JOANN, has begun making masks, gowns, and scrubs in three of their alterations nationwide—South Florida, New Jersey, and L.A. The company has asked alterations staff, who are being paid whether they make masks or not if they would be willing to come in for the betterment of their local communities. Many have risen to the occasion.
Dallas is next for the clothing retailer, the last of Neiman’s four alterations facilities nationwide.
“For Dallas, it is just making sure we help the local authorities understand what we are trying to do,” says Willis Weirich, Senior Vice President of Neiman Marcus’ supply chain. “It’s not been for lack of support. It’s just making sure we understand all of the elements of the [shelter in place] declaration.”
Toyota has turned several of its facilities in North America into face-shield factories as well.
“We are eager to contribute our expertise and know-how to help quickly bring to market the medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the COVID crisis,” said Toyota North America CEO Ted Oswego in a release. The automobile manufacturer is also helping medical supply producers to expedite the manufacturing of ventilators and respirators.
Though all have made the shift to help the local healthcare community, for Dallas’ small businesses, making masks is a means of survival—a way to hold on until normal growth can resume.
“We were on the cusp of building out a second Pink Pedi store in Fort Worth, and all of this came crashing down,” says Dang. Now, with the stock market as unpredictable as it has been, she is worried if that dream will ever come to fruition.
Lurie simply hopes to help the community while he can. “I just feel called to make masks, and however [they] get distributed, I am just hoping [they] get into the right hands,” he says.