Miracles happen when art and science get together.
Boston’s Ministry of Supply, the science-based apparel maker founded in the labs of MIT, is tackling the face mask shortage with a new kind of face protection for the health-care workers of Boston Medical Center, the company said Friday.
The skyrocketing demand for PPE, or personal protective equipment, is far outpacing supply across the country, as doctors, nurses and other health-care workers tend to a fast-growing number of coronavirus cases.
Ministry of Supply raced to prototype and develop a mask via alternate manufacturing facilities and materials. To be clear, these aren’t N95 or surgical masks, but a new version created alongside manufacturer Nimbly and an expert team of partners — Dorothy DeGuzman, MD MPH, from the Ventura County Medical Center; Jose Gomez-Marquez of MakerHealth and Skylar Tibbits from Self-Assembly Lab MIT.
The company is essentially 3-D-knitting the items using viscose — a dense hygroscopic material that dehydrates viruses and bacteria — in a sleeved design that allows for replaceable polypropylene HEPA filters.
“Our masks are 3-D-knit with high-tech Shima Seiki knitting machines at Nimbly in Los Angeles and Detroit, one of our long-term, U.S. based manufacturers,” Gihan Amarasiriwardena, Ministry of Supply’s cofounder, told WWD.
“We typically make sweaters to demand on this machine. Our agile supply chain allows us to adjust and scale up production to address changing demand,” he added. “In a normal scenario, we might adjust production if one style is selling faster than another. But in this scenario, we could switch manufacturing to produce masks.”
As for the health and safety of factory personnel, Amarasiriwardena noted that the scale of the production is driven by the machines, not humans, which means they can work in shifts to reduce overlap. The company intends to run multiple knitting machines 24/7 to meet the need.
Ministry of Supply also plans to donate 20 percent of its own sales to fund mass production of these masks.
Everyone from Christian Siriano to Major League Baseball has stepped up to aim their fashion apparel or jersey production prowess toward PPE.
For now, the immediate effort is focused on the medical professionals in the company’s hometown of Boston. But Amarasiriwardena plans to expand the operation to cover other healthcare workers nationwide.
“As we continue ramping up supply, we’re planning to offer the masks on a national scale by early April,” he said. “And, if more partners want to get involved, we can scale demand even faster and ship to more facilities.”