Originally appeared in MEDIUM, Illumination
Remember When the World Shut Down?
It’s impossible not to think back to March 2020, when we were at the beginning of an international pandemic. The world was scared. Unknowing.
On my daily walk, I passed an empty hotel. Red tulips were in bloom at the entrance. I wanted to pick them but feared they’d bring COVID into my house.
Everyone was Zooming. Toilet paper was a commodity. In fact, the shelves of all paper goods were bare. And remember the video circulating on how to wipe off every surface of your groceries? And to leave packages outside for 24-hours before bringing them inside?
An article I wrote now seems so far away. Did this really happen?
CORONAVIRUS NEWS: Fashion Houses in Brooklyn Pivot to Make Isolation Gowns During COVID-19 Pandemic
When Covid-19 hit, one thing was blatantly clear: the stockpile of PPE (personal protective equipment) was desperately low. Libby Mattern, production director at Malia Mills (swimwear and ready-to-wear designer and domestic manufacturer) is also founder of Course of Trade, a registered 501c3 dedicated to providing industrial sewing training to New Yorkers in need — no previous sewing experience necessary.
As the pandemic continued to spread, it was obvious that the time was right to revive the declining garment industry in NYC. The racks of Malia Mills swimsuits and clothing took a back seat so that Course of Trade could shift the company’s focus.
“Coronavirus is an important time for small businesses, large businesses, and the government to band together to help in whatever way we can,” Mattern said.
“This is what makes NYC manufacturing, and people behind sewing machines, so incredible — we can nimbly move to address the supply chain issues and bring goods to market rapidly.”
The isolation gowns are level one with very specific specifications and fabric secured by the Mayor’s office. Course of Trade is working with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) who works directly with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to distribute the gowns to public hospitals across the five boroughs.
Along with Course of Trade, Mattern is managing five other garment factories in South Brooklyn on a contract that expires on July 1. The city is providing the materials and paying the factories for their work.
Together, Course of Trade and its cohorts are producing over 65,000 isolation gowns every week for front-line hospital workers in NYC.
Bill DeBlasio, Mayor of NYC, recently visited Course of Trade, where the sewing machines have been socially-distanced, and reinvigorated workers are hard at work, doing their part, to help protect those who protect others.
“Such a short while ago, you were a swimwear factory, right here on this floor, making swimsuits for the summer season,” the Mayor said. “Now you are a war-time factory making isolation gowns to protect health care workers.”
“None of us would’ve imagined that trying to find isolation gowns would be nearly impossible for our front-line workers,” the Mayor continued. “This is an amazing industry — the heart and soul of New York City.”
“We’re moving heaven and earth to get this done,” Mattern said.
The memory of the March 2020 panic is still so fresh.