Pivot is a word that has been used a lot since the start of the pandemic. Companies and small businesses alike have been trying to find new ways to keep themselves and their products relevant while staying afloat. Hemingway Apparel was one of our industries to make the transition successfully.
Hemingway Apparel, which normally makes products that range from undergarments, T-shirts and blankets, to baby bibs and pillowcases, turned to producing face masks and neck gaiters for FEMA, in conjunction with the Hanes/Parkdale Initiative. President Chris Marsh said shirt production looked as if it would dry up during COVID. So, they “pivoted that capacity” to facemasks. This, of course, meant that changes had to be made.
“Being deemed essential, we were given a little broader scope, but have complied in almost every facet,” said Marsh. “ We spaced our machines so that there would be seven or more feet between people [and implemented] daily temperature checks with historical log and daily sanitizing of all equipment.”
Marsh said that this included, but was not limited to, scissors, sewing machines, cutting machines, staple guns, door handles, toiletries and anything that a hand might touch.
They also implemented pre-interviews for any visitors, which included temperature checks. They stopped allowing plant tours, and all visitors, including customers, are contained in a conference room and not allowed in the plant. He went on to say that masks were initially self-governed but became mandatory in July of 2020.
To date, they have produced approximately 300,000 units of the product, which FEMA has coordinated with the national stockpile.
Though Marsh admits that what’s to come in 2021, is hard to predict, he did express concern about the impact the change in administration could have on the country’s manufacturing. When asked what he thinks the future looks like for the company, Marsh expressed concern that what he believed to be a strong year for domestic production in 2020, could come to an end as things begin to return to normal, possibly within the next 24 months.
He believes that this has been a good time for businesses in the soft goods industry particularly, where automation is difficult and, in some cases, non-existent or unaffordable. His other concern was individual compensation from the federal government.
When asked what they are most proud of about this experience, Marsh’s response was, “The impact their team may have had somewhere with someone that they will never know.”
As we move further into 2021, still wearing personal protection equipment, it’s apparent that that impact will be felt for some time.
***Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the subject and not of Williamsburg County Economic Development Board.***
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