Detroit’s ISAIC Manufactures Medical-grade Masks, Gowns in Face of COVID-19

Detroit’s ISAIC, or the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center, a sewn goods manufacturing and training nonprofit, announced it will produce millions of pleated medical-grade masks and thousands of sewn surgical masks and isolation gowns.
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medical mask
ISAIC will soon begin manufacturing medical-grade masks and gowns. // Stock photo

Detroit’s ISAIC, or the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center, a sewn goods manufacturing and training nonprofit, announced it will produce millions of pleated medical-grade masks and thousands of sewn surgical masks and isolation gowns.

The nonprofit has been working with the city of Detroit, the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Pure Michigan Business Connect, Dearborn’s Carhartt, the Rock Family of Cos., and Empowerment Plan on a two-pronged approach: mobilizing local apparel manufacturing to produce standardized, centralized personal protection equipment, and the automated, mass production of pleated surgical masks.

ISAIC is partnering with Empowerment Plan, a nonprofit that employs 50 previously homeless individuals to produce coats that convert into sleeping bags for those in need. Empowerment Plan has temporarily stopped coat production due to the virus and has retooled its facility to serve as ISAIC’s centralized pre-production and training center while the ISAIC factory buildout is completed over the next few weeks. ISAIC’s learning and contract manufacturing facility was set to launch this month.

ISAIC has created mask and gown kits with standardized product specifications, created in consultation with area hospitals, to be dispersed to local manufacturing partners including Shinola, Detroit Denim, York Project, and Pingree Detroit, for production. ISAIC will administer orders, control inventory, and handle distribution to hospitals and other medical facilities.

“We’ve worked with the ISAIC team over the past year implementing their training and apprenticeship program with our sewers, so they know our facility and employees well,” says Veronika Scott, CEO of Empowerment Plan. “Together, we’ll be able to efficiently activate this initiative.”

ISAIC’s network and partners were able to source polypropylene spunbond and meltblown materials, offering a much higher protection from viral particles in the equipment that will be produced.

“We cannot give enough credit to the army of home sewers and small companies who have done an amazing job of getting the cotton masks out as a stopgap until we were able to source the highest-grade materials and mobilize this collaborative of manufacturers,” says Jen Guarino, CEO of ISIAC.

Production is expected to roll out today, with all six factories in full production by the end of April.

Last year, Carhartt donated 12,000 square feet of space in its midtown Detroit building and funds for the buildout of ISAIC’s factory. Due to the pandemic, ISAIC shifted gears to personal protective equipment production and factory completion has been deemed essential construction.

ISAIC has been working with a national consortium that includes the Rock Family of Cos. and Carhartt on the procurement of high-tech, advanced manufacturing equipment. The Quicken Loans Community Fund has purchased the equipment for the ISAIC factory, which will enable automated mass production of more than 1 million masks per month. The line machine will be the only one of its kind in the region. It is anticipated this system can be delivered and operationalized within two months.

“Carhartt has been a proud supporter of ISAIC and their commitment to bringing apparel manufacturing to our community for two years,” says Gretchen R. Valade, Detroit development manager. “Their work is even more important today as the need for personal protective equipment like masks and gowns is critical to those working on the frontlines.”

A centralized ordering portal will soon be operational. More information is available here.

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