Like many American manufacturers, the company did its part to address PPE shortages. Now the rest of us have the chance to help, too.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, personal protective equipment (PPE) was in such short supply that healthcare workers at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic were using garbage bags as protection.
Cleveland Clinic officials reached out to John Miller, whose company Stitches USA manufactures a variety of commercial sewing products, ranging from American flags to hazmat suits to equestrian gear. Based in Sugarcreek, Ohio – located about 11 miles away from the Cleveland Clinic’s Union Hospital – Stiches USA owns about 50 commercial sewing machines, which put the company in a position to help.
And Stitches USA did just that, working in partnership with leaders in the local Amish community to quickly ramp up production to make the PPE so desperately needed by those working on the frontlines.
“When the pandemic started, we pivoted in conjunction with my other company [Superb Industries] and gauged 1,200 seamstresses, and made a million and a half masks,” Miller said in an interview.
“We stepped up and provided much needed PPE for them, and we’ve been supplying the state of Ohio and 18 other states.”
More than six months into the crisis, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of at least 200,000 Americans. There are still shortages of N-95 face masks and other critical supplies needed at hospitals, nursing homes, and other locations across the country.
Nonetheless, there have been many American manufacturers who have been working diligently to help the United States combat the PPE shortage, including Stitches USA.
The company was first established in 2002, specializing in making textile products. Stitches USA moved to a new location in 2011 for expansion purposes, and has continued to been able to increase its production capacity over the years.
When the company first pivoted to making PPE back in March, it faced a number of logistical challenges, including supply chain issues. Decades of offshoring meant that the United States had become reliant on foreign imports for the materials needed to make face masks, face shields, and other protective equipment.
That made it hard for Stitches USA to get what it needed to make PPE.
“We couldn’t get material,” Miller said. “And it was very difficult to move fast enough to be able to provide the needs of our clients.”
But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and Stitches USA made a way.
The company has now become a key player in Ohio’s effort to manufacture PPE. In August, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that Stitches USA would partner with Buckeye Mask Company to make “high-quality, cotton face masks on a large scale.”
Both companies received a grant from the Ohio Retooling and Reshoring Grant Program and a loan from JobsOhio to help purchase advanced machinery to mass produce multi-ply antimicrobial cotton masks. The partnership means that the two companies can make 1.5 million masks a month.
“The partnership between Buckeye Mask and Stitches USA demonstrates how Ohio manufacturers are stepping up to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19,” DeWine said. “At the beginning of this crisis, I said that we would work to bring PPE manufacturing back to Ohio and the United States to reduce our reliance on foreign markets. This partnership is part of that effort and a great win for Ohio.”
But frustrations remain. While Stitches USA can now make around 45,000 masks a day, it has had to slow production due to demand – far too many people are still buying face masks that were made overseas, Miller noted.
Now the challenge is to get the word out that the company is making high-quality face masks (that the public can buy directly from its website).
There is so much value in purchasing PPE like face masks that are Made in the USA. After all, Stitches USA stepped up to help the healthcare heroes on the frontlines of the virus at a particularly dire moment. Now the rest of us have an opportunity to help, too.
“The best part about manufacturing in the USA,” Miller said, “is that we are creating more American jobs.”