FABRIC Ramps Up to Make PPE

As you may know, our fashion incubator FABRIC and its non-profit AZ Apparel Foundation are pivoting efforts during this pandemic to manufacture safe and effective PPE that meets FDA regulations so we can continue to help our community during this time of crisis. As a community resource for apparel entrepreneurs and a manufacturer of sewn products, we have received countless requests to provide PPE items to healthcare facilities and first responders. Sadly, we’ve received desperate and heartbreaking requests from numerous healthcare facilities and first responders who are completely out of items, and we are not equipped to fill all of these orders….its in the millions. The desperation in these requests has been heart-wrenching.

We didn’t want to jump in and start making PPE without understanding exactly what it takes to make SAFE and EFFECTIVE PPE that would be compliant with the important FDA standards that are set in place for a good reason. So we did our research. After learning alarming facts about the properties of certain fabrics and procedures that should AND SHOULD NOT be used to make masks and other PPE, we knew there were specific items we would be capable of making safely so we focused on those….namely reusable isolation gowns.

For the last couple of weeks we have literally worked around the clock on this. Our team is having regular “war room meetings” (still maintaining social distances and following our city's current guidelines) and we are constantly messaging each other over sleepless nights as things progress. No one on our team is sleeping enough and everyone is experiencing the side effects of anxiety. But I have never seen a team of people work so hard with so much heart…even after seeing this team achieve the impossible already over the past 3.5 years of creating a fashion incubator that has helped hundreds of apparel entrepreneurs. This is making me so proud. I just want to hug them all, but we are practicing social distancing.

Our Director of Design Development and Production Kate Anderson quickly educated herself and schooled our team on the material and procedural specifications that are required by the FDA. Then we immediately started sourcing these materials with help from our foundation’s amazing volunteers only to find that they are as scarce as the PPE itself. Eventually, we found a source for FDA approved fabric that we could use to make reusable isolation gowns. By this time we had a very big order for these from a major hospital. This fabric has been ordered and is now in route to FABRIC and we can start filling this order soon.

We currently make a few medical devices in our facility, so we were already working with a Quality and Regulatory Consultant that specializes in medical devices named Amy Oakes. She has joined our team to help us get the FDA certification we need and has been providing guidance to help us ensure we are following FDA protocols and requirements so we know that what we are providing will not put anyone at risk. Just yesterday we received a grant for $25,000 from Thunderbird Charities so we can get this certification and train our team on the FDA protocols!!!

In order to meet this large order in a much faster manner to meet the demand, we need to ramp up our manufacturing. We need to add sewing machines and automated cutters and more. We have been working closely with equipment suppliers on this. We need to transform our building by properly cleaning it and bringing it up to FDA standards. We need to enforce protocol standards. We need to transform our runway/event space by adding dozens of machines and adding the electrical power to support this. If we end up making masks, we need to set up even more equipment in an actual clean room…which we do have access to thanks to ASU. We also need the money it takes to handle administration of all of this.

We had a press conference on March 25th and many news channels and publications did quick stories on these efforts, however, we created our own video (thanks to one of our in-house video production companies called Minstrel King Entertainment) that explains even more.

Thanks to our non-profit’s Co-Chair Rhonda Bannard, we have connected with important government officials. Thanks to our non-profit’s 2019 scholarship recipients/ Co-founders of the brand Naked Rebellion, we have been able to secure an additional fabric supply of the scarce FDA approved fabrics. Thanks to our non-profit’s Executive Director Leslie Lange who has volunteered her time to continue and expand her duties when she wasn’t sure if her salary was covered. Thanks to our 2020 Designer in Residence Scholarship recipients we have a GoFundMe campaign set up to help fund the regular operations of AZ Apparel Foundation which supports the fashion incubator’s initiatives. Thank you to the community members who have helped connect us with supplies, resources, and financial help and have even donated money and sanitary supplies to help us keep following safety guidelines at FABRIC.

Most importantly, I personally want to thank my Co-Founder Sherri Barry. Our team has been following her lead. She has really spearheaded these efforts. After dedicating the last 3.5 years of her life and her own financial resources to create a place that helps hundreds of apparel entrepreneurs follow their dreams, she wanted to ensure that FABRIC could survive the pandemic for these entrepreneurs and knew that pivoting efforts to help the larger community would be the solution. I’ve been trying to move all of our services online and film video versions of all of our lessons and consultations so we can still help the entrepreneurs who need us virtually. FABRIC will survive thanks to the efforts and sheer will and determination of Sherri Barry.

In 2 short weeks, this is what we’ve accomplished…

  • Fielded hundreds of messages regarding PPE needs
  • Research into and understanding of FDA and CDC regulations required to make safe and effective PPE.
  • Created team storage cloud to store all information.
  • Web pages created to communicate FABRIC’s PPE efforts with links to donate and support. Updating regularly.
  • Joined special task force appointed by the AZ Governor along with many local healthcare facilities, the Arizona Department of Health Services, the Department of Emergency and Medical Affairs, and countless government and healthcare organizations.
  • Toured a clean room provided by ASU and another facility that could be used to expand manufacturing into if needed.
  • Connected with additional government officials including AZ Commerce Manufacturing Extension Partnership for assistance in LEIN manufacturing methods.
  • Research, sourcing and purchasing of FDA and AAMi approved fabrics that can be used in safe and effective PPE. Learned of and connected with an additional source that will be making more fabric through one of our community volunteers.
  • Orders for millions of PPE items received. Fabric on its way.
  • Patterns made and samples sewn of PPE items based off of actual existing PPE items provided to us by healthcare facilities.
  • $25,000 grant received from Thunderbirds Charities to acquire FDA certification and to train staff on FDA protocols!!!
  • Researched automatic N95 machine availability and fabrics required to use with it. Found supplier that has limited quantities of these machines remaining. Need funding to purchase this. Created a funding page for this.
  • Got a quote on resurfacing our manufacturing floor with epoxy to ensure clean standards. Will need to do this before we add more machines. Will need community help to move the current equipment out for the epoxy process.
  • Gathered information for automated cutting machinery needed and connected with supplier on price quotes. Need help buying.
  • Need to hire many more sewists with industrial machine experience.
  • Held press conference on March 25, 2020 to share facts and needs. Stories produced and published.

Our PPE production should begin as soon as the fabric is received next week and once our facility has been properly set up to do this. But WE NEED HELP to help others because there is a much bigger need than we can fill right now. We need ro ramp up our abilities. I have been working on communications and in addition to the press conference, I’ve created a COVID-19 page on our website with a lot of information. I plan to keep these pages updated as best as I can, however things are happening at lightning speed now. In fact, as I write this, my inbox is filling up with great news and connections that are allowing us to move forward on many things. We’ve always referred to FABRIC as a Public-Social-Cooperative-Enterprise because of our unique model that relies on community, for-profit, non-profit, and government to all collaborate for the greater good. This model has never been more important.

I’ll try to keep documenting our efforts on this blog as things unfold. Stay tuned and if you want to help, please visit our Be Part of Solving The Problem link and donate to AZ Apparel Foundation.