In the face of the growing coronavirus crisis, innovative design companies and leading manufactures are shifting production to fight an invisible global enemy. On Saturday, 154-year-old outdoor furniture maker Woodard revealed that it had converted part of its Owosso, Michigan, production facility to manufacture non-N95 face masks for medical professionals, first responders, and patients. Renowned textile companies Schumacher and Kravet have both donated 600 yards and 500 yards, respectively, of tightly woven cotton to the Michigan facility to help out with the efforts. Another 500 yards from Kravet was already on-site, and the company has found many yards of elastic to use as well.
Woodard owner Jean Liu told Paper City that she came to the decision only last Thursday evening, and the following day she enlisted Schumacher and Kravet to provide material that abides performance standards. In a statement emailed to AD PRO, Liu said: “With the use of our automated cutting machines and sizable sewing department, we believe we can ramp up production to 1,000 masks each day. We have also been fortunate enough to have other furniture companies such as Wesley Hall, Century, CR Laine, Vanguard, Sherrill, Massoud, Huntington House, Shenandoah, and Michael Thomas offer to cut and sew masks with us.”
Of Schumacher’s donation to Woodard, Timur Yumusaklar, the brand’s CEO, tells AD PRO via email: “We’re on board to give even more.” Donating material for masks, hospital gowns, and curtain dividers in makeshift hospitals “is very much in keeping with what we’ve always done during emergencies—during WWII, we wove parachute cloth for U.S. paratroopers.”
The Woodard effort is part of a larger movement to wage war on COVID-19. One Seattle-area company, Kaas Tailored, has already halted all of its furniture and upholstery production to focus exclusively on face masks and face shields. Meanwhile, Philip Erdoes, founder and owner of furniture brands the New Traditionalists and Ducduc, has retooled his Torrington, Connecticut, factory to produce 300 non-N95 masks daily as well as hospital gowns for donation to local hospitals and daycare centers; he plans to expand production to include hospital beds, daycare furniture, and other larger items that can be manufactured with antimicrobial finishes and veneers that can be cleaned using appropriate disinfectants. Stitchroom is another company that’s made similar efforts.
Elsewhere, the Massachusetts-based luxury linen brand Matouk is preparing to step up its participation. “Our immediate goal was to donate bedding and towels to temporary hospitals and shelters that were being set up to accommodate the COVID-19 patients, or those impacted by it. But as the need for sanitary face masks and other personal protective equipment quickly escalated to a crisis, we realized that we could shift our manufacturing to supply these, as well,” creative director Mindy Matouk says to AD PRO.
Currently, Matouk’s manufacturing team is confirming that its prototype masks fulfill local health care providers’ needs, and that it has resources in place to replicate and distribute the masks effectively. “We are going to do whatever we can to accommodate requests for surgical gowns, shoe protection, gloves, hospital curtains—whatever is needed to help our medical heroes through this,” Matouk notes.
The design industry’s desire to help is poised only to increase. Social media has been an outlet for brands like powerhouse furniture maker BDDW to seek retooling partners, while New Orleans–based Alex Geriner, founder of furniture maker Doorman, tells AD PRO that he is firming up agreements with friends at local nonprofits to start making hospital beds, rolling carts, and other health care goods. Set to help are as many as 100 volunteers—all of whom will of course practice social distancing.
Retooling is taking place across America and beyond, as Italian manufacturers have engaged in a huge coordinated initiative to convert production to medical supplies. Prada recently announced its own efforts, while one Italian company is even 3D-printing valves for use in ventilators. As of now, President Trump has not yet used his authority under the Defense Production Act to mandate industry’s conversion to virus-combating products. But in lieu of that, design-industry companies are clearly trying to help fill the void.
“When we received calls last week from hospital administrators asking for help, we knew that we could assist with supplying fabric,” Ellen Kravet tells AD PRO. “We have assembled groups who are now shipping fabric and assembling masks. Our goal is to provide enough masks for the health care workers on the front line at least for the next 30 days. We will continue until this crisis resolves.”