When the PPE shortage started to become apparent in mid-March, we immediately committed to fill large orders of reusable isolation gowns for Banner Health and Dignity Health. They pre-purchased their own materials and started working with our team to design their unique gown styles. We then acquired additional machinery, hired more staff, and started filling these orders. We are committed to making hundreds of thousands of pieces for them now.
As the weeks have flown by, and the news has spread about our efforts, inquiries from large and small healthcare facilities nationwide have been coming in daily. Some facilities are completely out of gowns and others are running dangerously low. Some facilities can afford to purchase gowns and others cannot. It is heartbreaking to not be able to fill the needs of everyone who reaches out. In an attempt to help smaller facilities with emergency needs, we created an open source project called the 1 Million Gown Challenge in which we are sharing the pattern, instructions, and a source for substantially equivalent material that can be purchased at home improvement stores so that the public could make something that these smaller facilities could use to get by in an emergency situation. They wouldn’t be FDA approved Level 1 through 4 reusable isolation gowns, however they would be substantially equivalent. Home Depot even donated some of this material and a volunteer from the community used it to sew sew gowns from this fabric for the Tohono O’odham Nation.
As the inquiries continue to come in, we add them to a master list. The AZ Commerce Authority’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership has been working with us to connect those on the list with PPE suppliers. Unfortunately, when it comes to FDA certified apparel manufacturers in Arizona, we’re it. So, they have also been helping us scout apparel factories that we can help ramp up and partner with. Arizona isn’t known for apparel manufacturing, so it has been challenging finding partners who have the right equipment, FDA status, enough staff, the technical abilities, and the willingness to take this on. However, one facility has proven to be the perfect partner. Falcon Engineering provides comprehensive multi-disciplined manufacturing services in CNC, fabrication, textiles, and slings for the military. Not only do they have everything we were looking for, but their facility already had the 480v 3 phase electric required to support the automatic cutter that AZ Apparel Foundation recently purchased with the donation provided by Flinn Foundation. The FABRIC facility would have been too expensive to retrofit to accommodate this so instead, we’ve decided to house the cutter at Falcon. It should be arriving there within the week. This will help all of us cut many more pieces much faster.
Together with Falcon and other factory partners, FABRIC can take many more orders and make a huge dent in these PPE needs of our state. This will allow us to dedicate one of the production lines at FABRIC to fill needs for the smaller facilities including the facilities on the reservations. In fact, an anonymous textile mill donated 10,000 meters of AAMI-approved material and AZ Apparel Foundation will be donating a portion of the sewing of 4500 gowns which will go to the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation currently has the third highest percentage of COVID-19 cases in the US and the most active cases in the state of AZ.
Our fashion incubator is working hard to partner with other factories and get them up to speed to try to fill the needs of as many healtcare facilities as possible. Collaboration has always been the driving force behind our incubator model and now it is once again proving to be the ethical solution.