By Lorie Hailey
(Editor’s note: This is part 11 in our series about how Kentucky businesses are responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19. See the full report.)
One of the largest faux fur manufacturers in the United States has pivoted its production to reusable surgical masks for frontline medical professionals combatting coronavirus in Northern Kentucky.
An email from a business colleague frantically searching for masks for St. Elizabeth Healthcare sparked the idea, said Donna Salyers, founder of Donna’s Fabulous Furs in Covington. Minutes later, Fabulous Furs CEO Guy van Rooyen shared with Salyers a Forbes magazine article about groups across America pitching in to make masks on home sewing machines.
“With a giant workroom filled with power machines and a fabulous team of workers, Fabulous Furs was more than equipped to help,” Salyers said. “I shot an email to a friend in management at St. Elizabeth and offered to do whatever they needed.”
On March 22, company officials began discussing the logistics of taking on the project. In a matter of days, the production team had selected a mask template, created prototypes and presented them to healthcare workers at St. Elizabeth, Salyers said.
The first masks were made with unused 100% cotton flat sheets from Hotel Covington, which Salyers Group also owns. Fabulous Furs’ logistics expert Dianne Combs purchased additional 100% cotton prints, with an emphasis on leopard, Salyers said.
“The production team also worked to secure elastic, sourcing additional fabric as well as recalibrating our machines to sew lightweight cotton rather than thick, lofty faux fur,” she said.
Fabulous Furs typically makes faux fur coats, jackets, throws and accessories. Its products are sold in more than 500 stores in 46 countries, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. For the past few weeks, however, all of the company’s resources have been dedicated to making masks. Many have been donated, but the masks also sell for $12 on the Fabulous Furs website.
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The machine-washable masks have two protective layers of breathable cotton. They are not medical grade, but often are worn in the medical field by first responders and essential workers, Salyers said.
Salyers answered questions about her company’s COVID-19 response with The Lane Report for our Making It Work series.
The Lane Report: Instead of your popular faux fur products, Donna’s Fabulous Furs is sewing reusable masks for frontline medical professionals combatting coronavirus. Why did you make that decision?
Donna Salyers: Fabulous Furs has a long history of community involvement. Helping the hardy, brave medical souls who show up each day was an easy decision. Each and every one of us knows it’s a community effort and we’re the lucky, healthy ones.
TLR: In what other ways has this pandemic affected your company?
Salyers: Many of our staff are working from home, homeschooling their kids who may not be returning to their usual schools until September. We have the same stress as the rest of the country – worrying about kids, family members, our country and keeping Fabulous Furs on track.
TLR: Your company has 50 employees. Are you operating with a full staff right now? How have employees responded to changes at your facility?
Salyers: Not quite a full staff, because kids and families come first. Employee response has been unbelievably positive. Number one: It feels like a noble calling. Number two: For me – and I suspect many of my colleagues – I’m grateful to be positively engaged and doing something proactive, as opposed to hand-wringing and worrying.
TLR: Are any employees working remotely?
Salyers: Yes. We’re lucky to have technology in place that allows for remote work.
TLR: What has been the biggest challenge?
Salyers: Totally shifting gears when most of the country is shut down has been tough. Warehouses may have fabric, for example, but they might have laid off their shipping department. But compared to health care workers working unprotected, we have rather cushy jobs!
TLR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Salyers: We send our deepest gratitude to medical workers, first responders and all those folks who show up every day, day in, day out! You inspire us and we can’t wait to celebrate you – and with you – when we reach the other side.
Share your story
We want to hear how business leaders across the state have responded to the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the efforts to stop the spread of it. If your business would like to share its story, email Lorie at [email protected].