Local businesses pivot to provide personal protective equipment to essential employees

The faux fur coats made by Donna Salyers’ company are sold in more than 500 stores around the country, including high-end shopping destinations such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus.

At this time of year, workers at the Covington-based business would typically be making next season’s line of coats, jackets, and vests, which can retail for up to $600 or so.

But it didn’t seem quite right to be making luxurious fake furs at a time when a new germ is infecting and killing so many people and health care workers are struggling to treat those stricken by the virus. What was needed was not a new line of posh jackets but protective masks to keep hospital workers and others on the front lines of the virus battle safe.

After reading a Forbes article titled, “Calling All People Who Sew And Make: You Can Help Make Masks For 2020 Healthcare Worker PPE Shortage,” management at Fabulous Furs knew what to do. In a matter of days, its production team had selected a template, created prototypes and showed the masks to health care workers at St. Elizabeth Health Care, Northern Kentucky’s biggest health care provider. Management then ordered masks for about 1,500 employees.

The masks can also be purchased by the public on the Fabulous Furs website.

The company’s pivot to making personal protective equipment was one of several businesses that have put aside their normal work to dive in on the effort to provide badly needed protective gear for health care workers and others.

DeanHouston is a downtown Cincinnati-based marketing agency that runs a trade-show production division called Exhibit Logistics. That branch of the business uses a large-scale 3D printer to create displays used at trade shows and conferences. When some of the agency’s clients were declared essential businesses, meaning they needed employees and needed them to feel safe, the agency responded by converting its large-format printer to manufacture washable, double-layered, cloth face masks. The firm is also making PVC face shields with the printer.

“We realized very quickly that with our industrial-sized, digital, textile printer, we had the capability to quickly mobilize and fulfill an emerging need,” says Dale Dean, CEO and founder.

DeanHouston is taking minimum orders of 500 masks. For more information on the masks or shields, contact Tyler Houston at 740-646-2914 or [email protected].

In normal times, Standard Textile Co., based in the Cincinnati suburb of Reading, makes bedsheets and towels for hotels and hospitals. But in these abnormal times, it converted its manufacturing operations to produce gowns, face masks, and face shields for hospitals and health care workers.

The family owned company, nearly 80 years old, revamped its Brownsville, Texas facility to make face masks, and a collaboration between its research and development lab and its operations in Georgia and South Carolina resulted in a liquid-resistant, breathable, and reusable cover gown.

“In three short weeks, we orchestrated fabric development, material sourcing, garment fabrication, wash durability testing, and other product testing to deliver an essential reusable gown,” says Dr. Richard Hobert, director of development for Standard Textile.

Continued COVID-19 coverage has been supported by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, a program run in partnership with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Local Media Association.

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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.