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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Brands Churn Out Masks

Most of the workers at the Ortho Mattress Inc. factory in Phoenix have been furloughed amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and those who continue to clock in are not making mattresses.

The Cerritos-based company, which temporarily shuttered roughly all of its 60 stores on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order last month, is sewing nearly 1,000 protective face masks a day for its hospitality clients and at-risk consumers.

“We can only have nine people (working) at a time because of the social distancing,” said Chief Executive Ken Karmin. “It’s an alternative to laying people off. … We have applied for the payroll protection loans and … we are asking all our landlords for 90 days of rent abatement. … We have no idea how this is going to go, or what’s going to happen, but we’re doing the best we can and trying to be good citizens, for as long as we can.”

Last month’s shutdown of all nonessential retail businesses has halted or slowed operations at manufacturing plants across Los Angeles County. Like Ortho Mattress, many companies are reconfiguring their production to make protective equipment that’s currently in short supply.

Their efforts coincide with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s order requiring all residents to wear a face covering while grocery shopping or visiting other essential businesses.

“Each one of us is a first responder in this emergency,” Garcetti said in a statement. “Every employer should keep employees safe, and so should Angelenos patronizing these businesses. Cover up. Keep your distance. Save lives. It’s that simple.”

Garment industry help

Last month, the mayor announced L.A. Protects, an effort to engage the city’s fashion and garment industry in making 5 million nonmedical masks and other protective gear for grocery store workers, nonmedical staff in hospitals and others providing essential services.

The masks are made per Kaiser Permanente’s specifications while Vernon-based sustainable fashion brand Reformation Inc. is monitoring production quality. L.A. Protects’ website fields requests for protective gear and allows manufacturers to sign up to offer their services. So far, 995 manufacturers have signed up, and 413 of them meet specific requirements — they are licensed garment manufacturers and can follow safety and PPE guidelines outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Nearly 1,500 essential businesses have asked for support through the L.A. Protects website. For orders that are larger than 5,000 and for first responder groups, the portal is providing oneon-one matchmaking with manufacturers. Essential businesses looking to order fewer than 5,000 masks can search through a live database and contact manufacturers directly to fulfill their needs.

“Our manufacturing sector is unmatched anywhere, and the ingenuity of working people will help us get through this emergency,” Garcetti said, adding the initiative “will save people — and save jobs.”

Brands pivoting to protective gear include IFGfit, a West Los Angeles-based maker of “posture perfecting” activewear, and Bravada International Ltd., a leggings manufacturer in downtown’s Fashion District.

Fidelity Denim in Vernon has added blackand-white face masks to its online product lineup that includes $272 jeans and $248 jackets.

For every six-pack of masks purchased, Fidelity is donating a six-pack to those who are “on the front line taking the risk of their own health to protect the rest of us,” the company said in a statement on its website.

Beverly Hills-based Tieks by Gavrieli, meanwhile, used social media to get its customers engaged. The shoemaker is offering $50 gift cards for every 25 masks sewn and $100 gift cards for every 50 masks completed. Some 40,000 masks were produced in five days, according to the company.

Nonapparel companies are also signing up to help.

Not toying around

El Segundo-based Mattel Inc., whose flagship products are Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels, delivered hundreds of cloth face masks to Kaiser Permanente’s South Bay Medical Center and is working with various organizations across the United States to provide more masks to other health care workers and first responders.

“Our design and development teams in El Segundo and East Aurora, N.Y., are producing face masks from Barbie and Fisher-Price fabric to help meet the significant demand for these supplies,” Chief Executive Ynon Kreiz posted on LinkedIn.

“We are also prototyping, with guidance from health care professionals, personal protective equipment such as face shields. We are committed to using our resources to contribute as much as we can to fight Covid-19!” Kreiz added.

Meanwhile, Chatsworth-based Mattel competitor MGA Entertainment Inc. launched an initiative that Chief Executive Isaac Larian dubbed “Operation: Pac-Man,” which will source some 25,000 masks from an overseas factory and deliver them to City of Hope, Cedars-Sinai and UCLA hospitals.

The company, which produces the popular Little Tykes and L.O.L. Surprise toys, is also working on retooling its factory in Hudson, Ohio, to produce medical supplies.

“This is not an industry issue or a government issue any longer — at this point, all of humankind needs to work together and fix the shortage that hospitals are facing, and I believe this issue can best be resolved by entrepreneurs,” Larian said in a statement.

American Honda Motor Co. Inc., which suspended production at all of its automobile, engine and transmission plants in the United States and Canada through May 1, has pulled its inventory of personal protective equipment — including the coveted N95 masks — and donated it to health care providers.

The Torrance-based company also repurposed 3D printers at its factories in North America to manufacture visors for protective face shields for medical providers.

Mediha DiMartino
Mediha DiMartino
Mediha DiMartino covers retail, manufacturing and the ports. She can be emailed here.

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