By Kevin Collison
During much of the 20th Century, Kansas City was one of the nation’s largest garment-manufacturing centers, with many firms located in what’s now the downtown Historic Garment District
That spirit is continuing strong during the Covid-19 crisis as downtown area businesses and organizations including Rightfully Sewn, Sandlot, Madison Flitch and MEDiAHEAD! pivot to sewing and donating masks to healthcare workers and first responders.
“Our goal is to keep our workers going for at least a couple weeks,” said Chad Hickman of Sandlot. “We have enough material and elastic for us to put out about 12,000 masks.”
Sandlot usually makes high-end leather goods distributed through Made in Kansas City. With sales plummeting because of the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, sewing fabric masks was a good way to keep active.
Hickman said Sandlot, working with Made in KC, has raised $10,000 in donations for the effort that’s keeping its half-dozen employees working at its space at 3120 Terrace St. as well as dozens of other outside people who’ve volunteered to help.
So far, Sandlot has made about 1,000 two-ply masks and donated hundreds to the Kansas City Fire Department, KCK Police Department, Children’s Mercy Hospital and several retirement homes.
Hickman said Saint Luke’s Hospital recently donated material to make another 2,000 masks.
He added a Lenexa firm called Filti has shifted production at its Oklahoma plant to making the high-quality material used in virus-proof N95 masks. The firm donated $500 to Sandlot and will furnish the high-quality material for more masks.
John Pryor of Madison Flitch also saw sales at his custom furniture shop in the Crossroads District plummet with the Covid crisis and switched to making masks.
“After our business dropped off, it dawned on me that I could help out now rather than worry about the future,” he said. “I can put people to work and help Madison Flitch stay afloat.
“What we did was look at what we had on hand; a clean showroom gallery, shipping and receiving, cutting, templates and the ability to use our business to broker materials around the city”
At this point, it’s Pryor, a part-time employee and 15 remote stitchers making masks although that number is increasing. He’s working with Rightfully Sewn, Eleve Dancewear and Catholic Charities to find help.
The three-ply masks are manufactured to Center for Disease Control standards and can be used for shopping trips and other outings.
Madison Flitch sells the masks for $15 each, and for each sale another mask is donated to a worker in the frontline of combating Covid-19.
Donations are going to the North Kansa City Hospital, Children’s Mercy and Saint Luke’s Hospital, Pryor said.
Bill Mitchell, a principal at MEDiAHEAD!, located by Roanoke Park in Midtown, is using the firm’s 3-D printer to manufacture the shells for the high-quality N95 masks used in hospitals.
It’s a slow process, the printer can make only eight mask frames every 24 hours, but he had 24 done by the end of last week.
“It’s not much, but we have a lot of material to make them with,” Mitchell said.
“We’re waiting for the filter material and elastic to come in, and then I think we’ll donate them to the University of Kansas Hospital right up the street.”
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