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ISAIC, Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center, Centralizes Massive Surgical Mask and Gown Production Collaboration in Detroit

Partners include Carhartt, Rock Ventures, Empowerment Plan, Shinola, Detroit Denim, York Project, Pingree

Published 04-03-20

Submitted by ISAIC

 ISAIC, Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center, the national sewn goods manufacturing and training nonprofit based in Detroit, is centralizing one of the area’s most substantial responses to date in the production of Personal Protection Equipment. Millions of pleated medical grade masks and thousands of sewn surgical masks and isolation gowns will be available through a single coordinated effort designed to also support local businesses and keep workers employed.

ISAIC has been working with the City of Detroit, the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Pure Michigan Business Connect, Carhartt, Rock Family of Companies and Empowerment Plan on a two-pronged approach: First, to mobilize local apparel manufacturing to produce standardized, centralized PPE and second, automated, mass production of pleated surgical masks.

ISAIC, whose learning and contract manufacturing facility was set to launch this month is partnering with Empowerment Plan, the nonprofit that employs 50 previously homeless individuals to produce coats that convert into sleeping bags for those in need. Empowerment Plan has temporarily stopped coat production due to COVID-19 and has retooled its facility to serve as ISAIC’s centralized pre-production and training center while the ISAIC factory buildout is completed over the next few weeks. As many as 15 of Empowerment Plan’s seamstresses will continue to produce much needed PPE at its facility once ISAIC’s space is finished. 

Under this regional initiative, ISAIC and Empowerment Plan have created mask and gown kits with standardized product specifications, created in consultation with area hospitals, to be dispersed to local manufacturing partners, including Shinola, Detroit Denim, York Project and Pingree Detroit, for production. ISAIC will administer orders, control inventory and handle distribution to hospitals and other medical facilities.

“Empowerment Plan has been at the forefront of helping Detroiters and we’re committed to continuing that spirit during this crisis by repurposing our factory, helping with sourcing materials and providing sewers,” said Veronika Scott, CEO of Empowerment Plan.  “We’ve worked with the ISAIC team over the past year implementing their training and apprenticeship program with our sewers, so they know our facility and employees well. Together, we’ll be able to efficiently activate this initiative.”

While many mask production efforts are underway, access to proper materials through traditional supply chains has remained elusive.  ISAIC’s network and partners were able to successfully source polypropylene spunbond and meltblown materials, offering much higher protection from viral particles in the PPE that will be produced.

“We cannot give enough credit to the army of home sewers and small companies who have done an amazing job of getting the cotton masks out as a stopgap until we were able to source the highest grade materials and mobilize this collaborative of manufacturers,” applauded ISAIC CEO Jen Guarino.

ISAIC has a proven national leader as its head of production and innovation overseeing the effort. Marty Bailey, formerly of American Apparel and Fruit of the Loom, will supervise training and production of masks and gowns at Empowerment Plan while coordinating completion of the ISAIC factory and implementation at the other sites. Pre-production is underway and production will roll out April 6, with all six factories in full production by the end of April. 

Last year, apparel manufacturer Carhartt donated 12,000 square feet of space in its midtown Detroit building and funds for the buildout for ISAIC’s factory, which is set to become the hub for talent force development and domestic apparel manufacturing in Detroit. Due to the pandemic, ISAIC shifted gears to PPE production and factory completion has been deemed essential construction. 

In its second level of response, ISAIC has been working with a national consortium, including the Rocket Family of Companies and Carhartt, on the procurement of high-tech, advanced manufacturing equipment. It was announced this week that the Quicken Loans Community Fund has purchased the equipment for the ISAIC factory, which will enable automated mass production of more than one million masks per month.  The line machine will be the only one of its kind in the region.  It is anticipated this system can be delivered and operationalized within two months.

“Carhartt has been a proud supporter of ISAIC and their commitment to bringing apparel manufacturing to our community for two years,” said Gretchen R. Valade, Detroit Development Manager. “Their work is even more important today as the need for personal protective equipment like masks and gowns is critical to those working on the frontlines.”

Sewn masks and gown production continues to remain paramount. “We will continue to mobilize the amazing local resources that our professional sewing industry can provide,” added Guarino. “The immediate need for masks is massive, so our professional sewers will continue to produce masks until the higher-scale production solution is in place, then we will shift sewing efforts to focus exclusively on gowns.”

A centralized ordering portal will soon be operational. Information will be available at www.isaic.org.  

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About ISAIC

ISAIC, the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center, is a fundamental new approach to talent force development and economic stimulus. A Detroit-based 501c3 nonprofit, ISAIC is a national resource for those committed to positive impact through responsible production of high-quality garments and provides solutions centered around people, education, advanced manufacturing and upward mobility for workers. ISAIC’s proprietary training curriculum is being used in multiple states across the country. Its learning and contract manufacturing factory is located in mid-town Detroit, above Carhartt’s flagship store.

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