When the shelter in place order went into effect for the state of California, many businesses were left wondering whether they could safely continue operations or would have to close their doors for a while. Non-essential businesses had to close to the public and could only operate if they were able to adhere to strict safety and distancing regulations or if workers were able to perform their job duties remotely.
“We all kind of scrambled and freaked out a little bit around here,” admits Mark Killeen, President and CEO of Full Turn Custom Apparel. As an employer, Mr. Killeen has been a longtime client of Emplicity PEO & HR Outsourcing. Full Turn Custom Apparel, which he owns and operates with his wife, Rollie, sells luxury and performance apparel to wholesale clients such as golf club and resort retailers, sports teams, corporations, and more. His staff customizes and brands the apparel with embroidery and other details specific to each client. Not considered an essential business, he had to close the doors. “We literally packed up our computers and our monitors and taped up our windows and went home,” Mr. Killeen explained.
On March 17th, Mr. Killeen locked the warehouse doors without knowing when he’d be allowed to open again. That very same evening, he realized he was going to need to think up a new agenda for the next morning’s board meeting, which had been on the schedule long before a pandemic was on the horizon. “I was watching the news and I was listening to a particular story about Ford Motor Company, and how they were trying to repurpose a factory from making cars to making respirators,” he explained. “The story before that was about the dire need for masks, and I thought about how we have a warehouse full of apparel – we do a lot of customization of our apparel so we a have sewing machines – and a very talented staff who were all looking at possibly being furloughed.”
The next morning, Mr. Killeen was able to call some of his staff members with some exciting news. “The very next morning, we called in the staff that we needed to build patterns for these masks and we literally started cutting up shirts.” As his staff tried a few different approaches to mask patterns, Mr. Killeen looked into the bigger picture of what kinds of masks were needed and what kinds of materials those masks would require, not wanting to put an even bigger burden on the medical community. “I knew one of the biggest concerns was that the consumer was utilizing materials that were necessary for medical professionals,” Mr. Killeen remarked. So, he came up with a slight twist; “Our concept was that we were going to use our kind of luxury fabrics and come up with a consumer-friendly mask that consumers will want to wear and be comfortable wearing, therefore not utilizing the resources needed for medical professionals.”
The Killeens came up with and patented the name, DistanZ Health Mask, quickly got a website up and running, and began ramping up their production. Some of their earlier models were great for health professionals, and the company was able to donate some to Kaiser health offices and local senior living communities for their staff. After some additional tweaking, they settled on their design. “We came up with a model that’s very consumer-friendly, the fabrics are all beautiful, lightweight and easy to breathe through. And then came the research on what the protection really needed was.” Mr. Killeen continued, “So we designed a pocket in the back side of the mask that you can put a removeable and replaceable filter into and we sourced a different filtering material that’s called PM 2.5.”
The masks began selling rapidly, and the company was able to avoid furloughing almost their entire staff. “We were able to bring all of our sewers and almost all of the folks on the finishing tables back into work where they’re cutting fabrics every morning and they’re sewing the masks, and we’re shipping them every day. We’ve shipped thousands, and we really can’t believe it.”
Even after Full Turn Custom Apparel is able to return to their regular production, Mr. Killeen believes he will still see a need for DistanZ Health Masks too. “I think these kinds of accessories are going to become part of our wardrobe,” he opined. “I travel a lot through Asia and people there have learned over time that these types of masks are really helpful. They were using them back during the SARS outbreak, and also just because of pollution.” Pollution, he explained, is why PM 2.5 filters became popular in Asian countries, as they filter out up to 98.2% of contaminants as small as 2.5 microns. “I don’t really necessarily like wearing masks,” Mr. Killeen lamented; “but I like that fact that people respectfully wear them to help keep everyone around you safe, and that was kind of the genesis of the name Distanz – by wearing the mask you’re creating that “six feet apart,” that “distance,” because it’s providing you that protection.”
A percentage of all DistanZ Health Mask sales are donated to the East Bay Community Foundation Covid Relief Fund, which is local to where Full Turn Custom Apparel Operates. “There’s a lot of things going on globally and nationally but since we’re putting local people back to work, we wanted to give back to our local community with profits as well,” Mr. Killeen added.
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