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Joining effort was a natural fit for Hemingway Apparel

Posted April 23, 2020

 

By Devin Steele (DSteele@eTextileCommunications.com)

 

Cut-and-sew contractor Hemingway Apparel is part of the Parkdale coalition initiated by the White House to produce PPE during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

The company, based on Apparel Drive in Hemingway, S.C., has always sewn a variety of products for customers, so joining this effort was a natural fit, according to President Chris Marsh. About 20 percent of its production dried up fairly quick shortly after COVID-19 became a pandemic, but Hemingway was able to pivot to act as a manufacturer in conjunction with the initiative in order to make the face masks, he said.

 

“While we didn't lose much in the way of production, we needed to replace it fast,” he said. “Most of the loss was in our shirt department. While in talks about participating and trying to learn what we needed to do as a company, Hemingway was simultaneously tearing down a shirt line and rebuilding a mask line.

 

“The learning curve for us has been more about making sure we understood the supply chain and how to get everything ordered and in the facility in a timely manner,” he continued. “Our operators are certainly on a small curve, but they are familiar with product change and seem to be adapting well. I think one of leadership’s concerns is how to extend the terms far beyond what we normally operate under.

 

As a small operation, Hemingway has remained fully staffed, and has added a few people, he added. The company is actively working with legislators to understand what it needs to do to increase employment, he noted.

 

“If we go over 50 people like we once were, the dynamics change drastically for us because of the Employer Mandate 50 person ceiling in the Affordable Care Act,” Marsh reported.

 

Through the consortium, Hemingway Apparel has been tasked with manufacturing nearly 500 million face masks in a short period of time. The face masks it is producing will ultimately end up in households across America via FEMA, he said. Because of its current limitation in the number of employees it can hire, it has committed to produce 15,000 units per week, he pointed out. “It is our hope that we can expand that with the help of our legislators,” he said.

 

The company has remained a one-shift operation during the pandemic, but it is in “full-scale overtime,” he added.

 

He noted that his employees are extremely proud to be part of a larger effort aimed at public health in our time of need.

 

“Our employees have been outstanding at understanding the value of what they are doing,” Marsh said. “We are all highly conscious of how important it is for each of us to stay well and keep working. One of the new hires told us she could make more money at home with the relief effort being provided, but that she felt as though she needed to be helping people and knew this was a way she could do that.”

Being a part of a larger effort has benefited the company during its shift into PPE, Marsh said.

 

“Surprisingly, our industry and associates have come together to share data across nearly every facet of the supply chain,” he said. “This industry has responded to the crisis with strength and unification in a way I never remember in my 50 years of being raised in the industry.”

 

While Hemingway has committed to only mask production, the sheer volume of work that it has had to turn away because of capacity limitations is “magnificent,” Marsh said.

 

“Real, valuable, solid work is available to be done and we believe that there will be some long-term residual opportunities for the domestic supply chain to be a ‘go-to supply,’ at least in this hemisphere,” he said.

 

Marsh admitted that he hasn’t had much time to recognize the impact his company might be making, but he said he believes it to be immeasurable.

 

“It can be overwhelming to think about what you are doing in terms of it may help save someone's life,” he said. “We may never know the impact a face mask may have on a family’s life, but it’s incredible knowing we had a part in helping.”

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