Your Favorite Apron and Kitchen Gear Companies Are Now Making Face Masks

Update, October 6, 2020: This article was originally published on April 27, 2020, and recently updated to include more shoppable masks.





© Hedley & Bennett [Official]


The seamstresses at Tilit were already working from home when Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York put out a call on Twitter.

“On March 20, Cuomo had this call to action, saying that NYC was running out of PPE [personal protective equipment]. ‘Small businesses, small companies, get creative,’ was essentially what his Twitter message said, ‘and start helping out,’” says Jenny Goodman, chief operating officer of Tilit, which makes chef coats, aprons, and other “workwear” items for hospitality workers.

Within hours, the team settled on a no-brainer solution. As Goodman explains it, Alex McCrery, Tilit’s founder, happened to be in the office at that moment. “He cut a mask pattern and sewed a sample, and we were like, ‘Okay, let’s make masks.’”

Tilit is just one of many companies pivoting to masks, as it were. Dozens of apparel companies, big and small, are stepping up to use their facilities or distributors to produce face masks, though the scale and actual products vary. Some companies, like Nike, Eddie Bauer, Ralph Lauren, and Gap, are working to produce clinical-grade equipment that can be used in hospitals and are distributing directly to health care facilities.

Others are making fabric masks for customers, in the hope that their use can free up more medical-grade masks for the frontline workers who need them most. These include companies that typically manufacture aprons and other workwear for kitchen and restaurant use, like Tilit, as well as Hedley & Bennett, Blue Cut, Artifact, and CamCam. Food52 is also selling masks, made of denim and flannel and created in collaboration with canvas manufacturer Steele Canvas.

“With the CDC guidelines in place recommending cloth masks for everyone, and many grocery stores now requiring cloth masks to be worn by customers before entering, it’s safe to say people want to both protect themselves and donate to frontline health care workers at the same time,” says Food52 buyer Aja Aktay, who spearheaded the initiative with Steele Canvas.

Food52 clearly notes online that the masks “are not a substitute for N95 or surgical-grade masks and they are not FDA approved,” a disclaimer echoed on nearly all of the product pages for these masks. Rather, they’re intended for regular folks trying to minimize the risk they pose to others. As Vox.com explained, “Masks can help stop the spread of coronavirus not just by protecting the wearer, but by preventing the wearer — who could be an asymptomatic spreader — from breathing and spitting their germs everywhere.”

Between consumers’ growing awareness of the importance of face coverings and the changed CDC guidance, orders are coming in fast: Food52 sold through its first batch of masks within three days and is working to fulfill the current waitlist of orders by the end of April. At Tilit, Goodman says “the demand is crazy, so we’re literally sewing as fast

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White House cited drug companies’ objections in overruling FDA’s vaccine standards

“In a normal procedure, the industry wouldn’t be talking at all to the White House about this,” said John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “The White House again is blurring and muddying the waters on all of this.”

Trump has repeatedly telegraphed his eagerness to deliver a vaccine before Nov. 3, and one drug maker – Pfizer – has said it could still meet that timeline. During last week’s presidential debate, Trump went as far as to assert he’d been personally assured a coronavirus vaccine could be ready within weeks.

“I’ve spoken to Pfizer, I’ve spoken to all of the people that you have to speak to – Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and others,” he said, dismissing his own health officials’ projections that a vaccine likely won’t be available until the end of the year. “They can go faster than that by a lot.”

Trump’s claims prompted Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla to publish a staff memo decrying the politicization of the vaccine race, though he also criticized those “who argue for delay” and stuck to his pre-November target – writing that “we are approaching our goal and despite not having any political considerations with our pre-announced date, we find ourselves in the crucible of the U.S. Presidential election.”

The appearance of political interference in the vaccine authorization process has long worried FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and other agency officials. They felt that setting more stringent standards and releasing them to the public would reassure Americans that science, not politics, was driving the process. Public trust in a vaccine is crucial to ensuring that enough people take the shots to create a broader herd immunity against Covid-19.

But in initial conversations about the new guidelines, current and former administration officials told POLITICO the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs – which oversees all federal rulemaking – highlighted industry objections as among the key problems with the new standards.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows later conveyed similar concerns to Hahn, two officials said.

Soon afterward, Trump during a Sept. 23 press briefing dismissed the FDA’s proposed new guidelines as “a political move more than anything else” and threatened to reject them, overriding the FDA’s career scientists in the process.

The agency has since submitted additional justifications to the White House for revising its standards and making them public. But White House officials over the past week continued to raise doubts about the need for more stringent guidelines, a senior administration official said, including questioning why the FDA would alter its criteria so late in the process and why a coronavirus vaccine should face tougher standards than other vaccines.

The FDA has countered that it previously signaled it would hold Covid-19 vaccines to a higher bar given the stakes of the pandemic and the need to rebuild public confidence that any emergency authorization will be grounded in science.

Yet there is little belief those arguments are swaying the White House. Trump’s fixation

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