face masks fashion

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the fashion industry is stepping up to meet the outsize demand for medical supplies, including face masks and hand sanitizers, while other firms continue to make donations to various charities fighting the crisis. 

After designer Christian Siriano tweeted to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last Friday saying his team was available to help sew face masks for New York State’s medical professionals, other fashion companies and brands in the U.S. quickly followed suit. 

HanesBrands, Fruit of the Loom, Kering, American Giant, Los Angeles Apparel, AST Sportswear, Sanmar, Michael Costello, Brandon Maxwell, Karla Colletto, Marc Bouwer, Nicole Miller, Prabal Gurung, America Knits, Beverly Knits, Hanky Panky and Riegel Linen are just some of the names helping to mass produce face masks.

Kerby Jean-Raymond, founder of men and women’s fashion brand Pyer Moss, said on Instagram last week that he would convert Pyer Moss’ New York City offices into a donation center for medical supplies like masks and latex gloves. On Monday, luxury fashion house Prada said it had started production of 80,000 medical overalls and 110,000 face masks.  

Ralph Lauren is exploring how the company can be involved with the relief efforts to make masks and gowns, a company spokesman said Monday. Parkdale Mills Inc., a yarn manufacturer, headquartered in North Carolina, is helping by dedicating manufacturing capacity to make new masks. 

Many of the companies said they would begin production of supplies as early as Monday and hope to make deliveries to medical professionals and hospitals around the nation by mid-week. 

“Once fully ramped up in four to five weeks, the companies expect to produce up to 10 million face masks per week in the United States and in Central America,” according to a statement put out by the National Council of Textile Organizations, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association that represents domestic textile manufacturers, on Saturday. “They are dedicating their assets, resources and manufacturing capacities to create a high output of face masks.” 

Dara Lamb face masks

Women’s apparel brand Dara Lamb is just one company helping to mass produce face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy photo.) 

The trade association went on to say that Peter Navarro, assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, is working with the NCTO to help expedite the production of face masks. According to the trade association, the first face masks have been approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, some local governments were pleading with the federal government to use the Defense Production Act. The act, which stems back to the Fifties, allows the federal government to take some control of the private sector in an effort to mass produce products in a time of war or national defense. 

President Trump signed an executive order on March 18 saying health and medical resources fell under that category. But his administration has been slow to use it, instead saying he doesn’t want to force companies to lend a hand.  

“The concept of nationalizing our businesses is not a good concept,” Trump said at a White House press conference on Sunday. “Here’s the beauty of it, if we go out and let’s say we want masks. We don’t know who to call on masks. But Hanes, who makes things of cotton, various things, lots of elements; it’s a great company. They called us. They said, we’re going to make millions of masks. 

“What we’re doing… we have the threat of doing [the executive order] if we need it,” Trump continued. “We may have to use it somewhere along the supply chain in a minor way.” 

As of Monday morning, there were more than 33,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., or more than 341,000 worldwide, according to the CDC. By Thursday, the number in the U.S. had jumped to more than 68,000. 

Face masks have been sold out for months amid a consumer buying panic. That means health-care workers and medical personnel are the most at-risk groups. 

Over the weekend, officials from the Department of Health and Human Services approached HanesBrands, parent company to names like Hanes, Champion, Playtex, L’eggs and Bali, among others, about mass producing cotton masks. A representative for HanesBrands said the masks are not intended to “take the place of the more technical N-95 respirator masks and surgical masks, but could be used effectively in other situations and take the pressure off of using critical supplies of those more technical masks.”

HanesBrands is manufacturing under contract with the U.S. federal government and hopes to produce up to 1.5 million face masks each week. And, while usually considered trade secrets, HanesBrands has agreed to distribute the face mask specifications and patterns, which adhere to the guidelines set by the HHS, to other companies making face masks. 

Others in the fashion industry are rounding up references for DIY masks as well. In fact, what might typically be grounds for competition, has created a new collective within the fashion industry, coming together to fight the virus.

Web sites such as requestmask.com, nable.com/make-a-face-mask and weneedmasks.org, began circulating as of this week, offering sewing templates and instructions on how to make face masks. Others, like mask-match.com, are asking for people to donate their masks to medical workers in need. 

Amanda Curtis, founder of on-demand fashion brand Nineteenth Amendment, said the company received about 8,000 orders from just one hospital with 30 minutes of its “Buy a Mask, Give a Mask” initiative going online. The program asks for mask donations. It also allows individuals and companies to buy fabric masks. 

In New York, the CFDA has connected more than 50 brands that are interested in making protective personal equipment masks and gowns with the New York Economic Development Corporation. The Garment District Alliance has also been coordinating with the CFDA and the Industrial Technology Assistance Corporation, or ITAC, distributing a survey to help gauge New York City’s manufacturers’ production capacity and financial needs caused by the pandemic.

After New York City officials posted an activation form Sunday seeking manufacturers willing to help with various PPE production — apparel, industrial and other sectors — 460 businesses responded within 24 hours, according to a spokeswoman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. On average, 10 to 20 additional inquiries are coming per hour, she said. Companies that are interested in designing protective medical gowns are waiting for Department of Health approval, the spokeswoman said.

Noting how the city helps to operate such properties as The Brooklyn Navy Yard and The Maker Space, the mayor’s spokeswoman said, “Folks in the Garment District were eager to help as well, so we’ve been in contact with them.”

Citing the speed at which companies can get up-and-running, one company developed a face shield prototype in a day, received Department of Health approval and now expects to produce 5,000 units this week, the spokeswoman said.

Also in New York, Prabal Gurung and his team are working with governor Cuomo and Manhattan hospitals to finalize an action plan to manufacture PPE for medical workers and first responders.

Gladson, a luxury fabric merchant in New York City that provides fabrics for brands like Paul Smith, Gucci and Stella McCartney, has offered to donate some of its fabric in its New Jersey warehouse to make face masks. 

The company is donating fabric to women’s apparel brand Dara Lamb to sew the masks. As of Monday morning, a representative for Gladson said each seamstress is working remotely and has been “sewing throughout the night.” 

On the west coast, Michael Costello’s team is ramping up the production of masks. On Sunday, after the ready-to-wear designer’s regular productions came to a halt, Costello reached out to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention to find out how he could help. 

Following the advice of Smart Air, which describes itself on its web site as a “social enterprise that creates simple no-nonsense air purifiers and provides free education to combat the impacts of air pollution,” Costello and his team are aiming to make 20,000 face masks, a cotton-nylon blend, protective mask with a “70 to 74 percent air filtration effectiveness rate, compared with the 97 percent effectiveness of surgical face masks,” according to the designer. Costello plans to distribute the masks to first responders and hospitals in Los Angeles County. 

In Europe, Kering said its brands Balenciaga and Saint Laurent plan to manufacture masks for medical workers. The luxury fashion house also purchased three million surgical masks from China that it plans to distribute to French health services.

By Monday, innerwear brand Hanky Panky was on board, too. The intimates company reached out to Cuomo offering to help. With roughly 125 experienced sewers, Hanky Panky said it is able to produce between 100,000 and 200,000 garments per week at its New York-based production facility. As of Monday, the company was awaiting the green light to begin production. 

Hickey Freeman

Luxury men’s wear brand Hickey Freeman is making face masks at its Rochester, N.Y., manufacturing facility for the medical staff at Rochester General Hospital amid the coronavirus pandemic.  Courtesy Photo

That same day, Hickey Freeman Tailored Clothing, the luxury men’s wear brand, said it began making face masks, starting with the medical staff at Rochester General Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., also home to Hickey Freeman’s manufacturing facility.

The Hickey Freeman factory has temporarily closed its operations amid the coronavirus outbreak. But Stephen Granovsky, ceo of Hickey Freeman, said some staff will return to make masks while practicing social distancing.

According to Granovsky, the Rochester General Hospital uses about 15,000 masks a day. On Monday, Hickey Freeman made approximately 1,400 masks and cut 3,000 pieces for production later this week.

By midweek other brands had joined the cause.

On Wednesday, the Canadian luxury jacket maker Canada Goose said it would use two of its manufacturing facilities to make medical gear, such as scrubs and gowns, which are in short demand, for frontline healthcare workers and patients across Canada.

The retailer plans to begin production the week of March 30 and hopes to make about 10,000 units.

The same day, Gap, Inc. announced by way of Twitter that the company was connecting hospital networks in California with its vendors to deliver PPE supplies. Gap is also in the process of pivoting resources so that its factory partners can make masks, gowns and scrubs for healthcare workers.

On Thursday, Fast Retailing, the Tokyo-based parent company to brands like Uniqlo, Theory and Helmut Lang, enlisted the help of its manufacturing partners in China to obtain roughly 10 million face masks. The masks will be distributed to medical facilities and nursing homes around the world, including about a million in Milan in late March, another million in New York State in early April and a million to the Japanese government.

But it’s not just face masks or medical apparel. Companies in the U.S. and Europe are contributing either production capacity or financially in the wake of the pandemic. Last week, all production facilities under LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s perfumes and cosmetics brands, including Parfums, Christian Dior, Guerlain and Parfums Givenchy, made the decision to manufacture and distribute free hand sanitizers to French authorities.

Beauty giants L’Oréal and Coty joined in the effort. Coty is using some of its manufacturing facilities to make free hand sanitizers for medical staff and first responders.

L Brands, parent company to Victoria’s Secret, Pink and Bath & Body Works, said it would consider reopening Bath & Body Works stores amid the shutdown to sell hand sanitizer and soaps. And, while the lingerie brand’s e-commerce shops remain closed, bathandbodyworks.com is open. 

Companies like Estée Lauder, Under Armour, Nike and shoe company Keen are making cash donations to charities to fight the coronavirus.  

On Tuesday, Under Armour stepped up even further, using its Lighthouse innovation lab to manufacture and assemble face masks, face shields and specially equipped fanny packs for the University of Maryland’s 28,000 health care providers. The compmany will also begin providing face masks to LifeBridge, a regional health care organization based in Baltimore, and is discussing the needs for supplies with Johns Hopkins Medicine, MedStar and other local medical institutions.

“When the call came in from our local medical providers for more masks, gowns and supply kits, we just went straight to work,” said Randy Harward, senior vice president of advanced material and manufacturing innovation at Under Armour. “More than 50 Under Armour teammates from materials scientists to footwear and apparel designers from laboratories in Baltimore and Portland quickly came together in search of solutions.”

Under Armour is projecting that it can manufacture 100,000 masks a week going forward. It has already delivered 1,300 face shields, 500,000 fabric face masks and 50,000 fanny packs.

On Monday, the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. said it has made a $2 million grant to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, to support the organization’s work in response to coronavirus in under-resourced and highly impacted countries. The beauty giant has also made a grant to support the establishment of the $75 million NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund, administered by the New York Community Trust, which will support New York City-based social services and cultural organizations that have been affected by the public health crisis.

Over the weekend, Los Angeles-based men’s brand, Buck Mason, said it will be manufacturing and donating 100,000 non-medical-grade masks to essential workers in California.

Buck Mason cofounder, Sasha Koehn, explained: “By shifting our manufacturing muscle to producing non-medical masks, we can help preserve the supply of medical-grade N95 masks for the healthcare workers who need them most.”

Buck Mason’s masks will include antiviral and antimicrobial layers, and be machine-washable.

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