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Utah temple dress company makes new kind of gown for hospitals during COVID-19

Posted at 10:12 PM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-23 18:52:14-04

A South Salt Lake temple dress company is avoiding a COVID-19 closure, by getting creative with what they offer.

From a simple switch of fabric and design, a whole new business arose for White Elegance.

Their Utah warehouse is full of white dresses of all kinds, for every age. But right now, there is no one to wear them.

"There were definitely moments, we're like, 'Well now what are we going to do?'" questioned White Elegance co-owner Anna Barbieri, as she explained the concerns with keeping their business going.

Members of both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Church often purchase White Elegance dresses for baptisms, weddings or communions.

However, COVID-19 has forced the closure of temples, cathedrals and churches. White Elegance also closed their retail shops, except by appointment for burial dresses.

Barbieri didn't want to cease production, and she wanted to keep her employees working.

"The light bulb went on and went, 'Hey-- this is something we can do. And we can do it pretty darn quickly,'" Barbieri said, of how she came up with the idea to adjust the company's focus.

They thought outside the box-- or in this case, outside the pattern.

On Wednesday afternoon, employees who normally work on the retail side of White Elegance cut blue fabric pinned to patterns.

"It's nice to be able to be doing something physically that I know is going to help our healthcare workers, and keep people safe, and slow down the spread of this virus," said Melissa Salimbene, who manages the Centerville White Elegance.

Employees like her shifted to manufacturing hospital caps and gowns for healthcare facilities in Utah and across the country.

"We heard a lot of people are just not getting the supplies, because traditionally they come from overseas," Barbieri explained. And with a global pandemic, she indicated a lot of overseas places aren't able to export as many goods.

"It was easy for us to be able to see the need for hospitals, and skilled nursing centers, and clinics," Barbieri said. "And to be able to come up quickly with a gown that would work for them, and because we already have sources for fabric-- we were able to do that pretty quickly."

And, just like creating a new temple dress, White Elegance had the ability to create a design, source fabric (in a different color, of course), cut and sew the pieces, and ship them out.

The company secured a contract. Barbieri said they'll make 25,000 hospital gowns and 1,500 caps. While their South Salt Lake warehouse produces the caps, their Texas facility will make the gowns.

It may not be the kind of dress they're used to making.

"We did not think we'd be doing hospital gowns and caps," Barbieri said. But, she said they are nimble and can adapt.

White Elegance is able to keep their workers employed, warehouse busy-- and fill a crucial need during COVID-19.

Now that the company has opened the door to a totally new kind of product, Barbieri said they might do this on a long-term basis.

"Maybe not necessarily hospital gowns for pandemics," she joked. "But we'd sure make hospital gowns for other reasons."

In addition to hospital caps and gowns, White Elegance is keeping their online store open, and they are offering curbside pickup.