OGDEN, Utah – A local company has completely transformed the product they provide in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to help provide crucial hospital wear, keep their full-time staff and employ dozens of part-time employees.
At Coleman Knitting Mills in Ogden, letterman jackets, class officer sweaters and cheer wear have been the name of the game since 1946.
“We service most of the schools in the Wasatch front from St. George all the way up to Idaho Falls,” said owner Abe Dalebout.
But in recent weeks, business concerns spiked for the decades old company as coronavirus continued to spread.
“When schools shut down, we kind of went into a lull to where we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Dalebout said.
That all changed last Friday when the company received an unusual call to service from a nursing home chain in Washington.
“None of their nurses had facemasks or gowns to protect them while they were doing the work and they knew what we did and they just said is there any way you can create something like this,” Dalebout explained.
So, Abe and his team of skilled seamstresses got creative.
“These are our medical gowns that we’ve been making here at Coleman Knitting Mills,” a woman said as she picked up a white piece of clothing from a table in a room full of sewing machines.
“This is the material that we’re using, it’s a micro suede that we were using for cheer warmups… and then this is our trim that we were using for cheer uniforms and we’re using those as the ties,” she said as she stretched out a silver sparkly piece of elastic-looking material.
The idea was to take the old supplies and fabrics (which happen to be moisture wicking) to create new, in-demand products – like hospital gowns and masks.
To create the gown, they adapted the pattern they currently use to create their class officer sweaters -- but they made it about a foot longer, put the slit in the back instead of the front, and added two ties around the neck and waist.
As for the masks, Dalebout said one of the seamstresses adapted a mask pattern to create the full-coverage mask they provide now.
“We use a polyester material that we were using also for cheer warmups, so it’s a little bit thicker, and then this same trim that we used for cheer uniforms and it has two ties as well,” the woman said as she stretched out the fabric and ties on the navy blue mask.
The masks themselves will not protect against coronavirus. According to the CDC only N95 respirator masks are effecting in protecting against the virus.
Still, Dalebout said their clients are drawn to the masks to help extend the lifespan on the approved disposable masks, which are currently in short supply nationwide.
“Obviously we understand that the facemask itself is not going to stop the virus,” Dalebout said. “[Purchasers] have been able to take their N95 mask, the ones that actually repel viruses and bacteria from getting in, and they can put it over it and it allows them to use that N95 mask more and more.”
The masks are still an effective ‘splash guard’ for anything else that may be thrown the medical field’s way.
“I think the biggest thing is the sustainability of it and being able to wash that again and again so they don’t have to continue to wear a dirty mask or no mask,” said Dalebout.
In just a week’s time, the gowns and masks from Coleman Knitting Mills are being used by healthcare provides, ‘cheering along’ the people on the front lines, instead of the stands.
“It’s been a little overwhelming how many people have contacted us,” Dalebout said.
As for the employees behind the machines, the new-found product sales are giving them job security.
“Having this come in has been huge for our ladies because now everybody is back to full-time work, even so much so, that we’ve brought on seven more in-house sewers,” Dalebout said.
The new hires don’t stop there.
“We have 35 home sewers right now who are going to be taking masks home and doing the work there and we pay them per piece,” Dalebout explained. “We built that cost in so that people can even go home, to where they feel safe, and sew up the mask -- we bring them back, check them for quality and then we actually sterilize them and then we pack them up and send them away.”
With the help of a fabric factory in Pennsylvania, they have been able to keep their ‘per mask cost’ as low as possible for buyers.
Dalebout also said that factory (which had been closed alongside many other businesses) was deemed an essential business by the state of Pennsylvania after Coleman Knitting Mills secured a large contract with a local hospital, allowing all of those workers to return to work as well.
Now from cheer wear to hospital wear, Coleman’s has found a way to stay in business during uncertain times. All it took was a little ingenuity, a pinch of pizazz and a whole lot of spirit.
Coleman’s is currently taking on orders and is looking for more at-home seamstresses to join the team.
If you are interested in sewing, or placing an order, they can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on their website (however, you won’t find anything about the masks or gowns on their site, they’ve only been doing this for a week after all).