Worldwide icon-chevron-right North America icon-chevron-right United States icon-chevron-right California icon-chevron-right Los Angeles icon-chevron-right This colorful L.A. apron company is repurposing its factory to make masks for hospitals
News / City Life

This colorful L.A. apron company is repurposing its factory to make masks for hospitals

Hedley & Bennett face mask respirator
Photograph: Courtesy Hedley & Bennett Ellen Marie Bennett models the Wake Up and Fight Mask

Hedley & Bennett’s slogan is “Wake up and fight,” but Ellen Marie Bennett didn’t realize how apt that motto would become when she launched her culinary apparel company in 2012. 

“I literally feel like I’m waking up and fighting for our lives every day now,” she says on a break from designing prototypes. “This is the motto of everyone’s life.”

The energetic entrepreneur is best known for her rainbow of aprons worn by celebrity chefs and smaller, independent local kitchens alike, but since Friday morning, she’s been working toward adding another product to her online store: masks for healthcare professionals, who are in such need that they’ve taken to social media to plead for donations. As we trail days behind New York’s exploding coronavirus figures—and its unprecedented shortage of medical protective gear—Bennett estimates there’s still time to get masks into the hands of California hospitals, if only she can find those hands.

The team at Hedley & Bennett’s Vernon factory have put out calls and emails to a number of organizations, including contacts in Mayor Garcetti’s office, and consulted with dozens of RNs and doctors to hammer out the logistics of both the most effective mask design and how to deliver to those in need.

Those back and forths and tips and feedbacks have taken the shape of a reusable 100-percent cotton face mask that—as a byproduct of Bennett’s design-savvy nature—manages to make the potentially lifesaving accessory fashionable, or at least aesthetically pleasing. But the latest Hedley & Bennett product, called the Wake Up and Fight Mask, isn’t a one-and-done: There’s a procedure to its use.

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It’s not FDA approved nor is it a medical-grade respirator, such as the now-scarce N95, but thanks to ample consultation from Dr. Robert Cho, chief of staff for Pasadena’s Shriners for Children Medical Center, it replicates one with a little ingenuity and a common household product. 

Cotton is porous, so Bennett and her team sewed a pocket into the interior of each mask, forming a slot for a filtration device: ideally a HEPA-grade (high-efficiency particulate air) filter such as the ones used in home ventilation systems, most vacuums and air purifiers. They can also be purchased as replacement filters at most home-improvement or hardware stores, some for as little as $6. Wearers are advised to cut a portion of filter for each use, then discard after every venture out of the house, then wash the mask in hot water via washing machine each time. As they’re made of cloth and designed to fit universally, there might be gaps between a face and the fabric; for this, use double-sided tape to secure it in place. 

While Hedley & Bennett is still ironing out the logistics of large-scale donations, for now they’ve landed on a buy-one, donate-one policy: The Wake Up and Fight Mask is available to the public for $22, and each purchase will provide a mask to a hospital, nursing home or other organization in need (you can also opt to donate both masks).

Bennett’s company is not the only factory in Los Angeles springing into action, though it is one of the largest, housed in a 16,000-square-foot facility; it’s also one that’s reconfiguring its workstations to follow six feet of social distancing between employees. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently approached members of the city’s garment district for aid, per Business Insider, and local apparel boutique Big Bud Press just launched a donation-based system to manufacture masks for healthcare workers.

In addition to doctors, nurses, first responders and high-risk individuals, Bennett also hopes to donate masks to members of the restaurant industry, who are still working to feed those in quarantine and spurred her company’s pivot to help. 

“Restaurants inspired me,” the founder and CEO says. “Hedley and I were born in a kitchen, and seeing every chef and everything that they’re doing—from converting their restaurants into bodegas to selling pasta and sauce to-go—everyone is being so resourceful and inventive and creative and I think in times of crisis, that’s when adapting to the circumstances really comes out. My restaurant world is the inspiration for this; they’re literally losing everything—and we’ve been in a really tough situation because of this too—but if they can do it, we can absolutely continue to wake up and fight every day. If they can do it, we can do it.”

Hedley & Bennett’s Wake Up and Fight masks are now available online at $22 per mask; each purchase also donates one mask to a healthcare professional. If you would like to donate money or materials, have large-scale orders or would like to connect Hedley & Bennett to healthcare professionals, contact wakeupandfight@hedleyb.com.

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