Unionwear ‘proud to make a difference’ in N.Y./N.J region hit hard by COVID-19
Posted May 7, 2020
Unionwear, a Newark, N.J.-based supplier of in USA hats, bags and binders for the promotional, fashion and uniform markets, shifted its operations to produce face shields and isolation gowns to protect healthcare employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the face shields, the company recognized that it could combine elements of its three product lines – clear vinyl from portfolios, sweatbands from baseball caps and foam from backpack straps, according to company founder and President Mitch Cahn. “But gowns were an entirely new animal for us,” he said.
The company aims to produce 10,000 face shields and 3,000 isolation gowns each day, he added.
Cahn said that Unionwear knew nothing about FDA requirements for these items, and that setting up new production lines meant it needed to fast track all the Kaizen/Lean Manufacturing steps that took it years to perfect in its existing lines.
“The main focus was working backwards from demand,” Cahn said. “What would it take to get 50,000 units on a truck each week? Working backwards meant we had clarity on what bottlenecks/learning curve issues/known unknowns would need to be addressed.”
Unionwear currently is working at about 30 percent capacity, he pointed out, as New Jersey is a hot spot for coronavirus, so many employees are afraid to go to work, he said. The company, typically a two-shift operation, is running one shift because of curfews, he added.
As for gaps that could help improve the company’s manufacturing capabilities, Cahn said more employees coming back to work would help tremendously, as well as the ability to procure more supply such as waterproof fabric, elastic and clear plastic, where shortages exist.
The company engaged with its labor union, an affiliate of the hospital workers union in New York City, which steered Unionwear in the right direction regarding what products to manufacture, Cahn noted.
Face shields and isolation gowns it is producing are primarily going to hospitals in New Jersey and New York, and to a lesser extent nursing homes, municipal employees such as firefighters, police officers and sanitation workers and private practices, he said.
“Employees are proud to make a difference (with new products) – we typically make hats and bags, rarely considered ‘essential,’ ” said Cahn, whose company captured the Sewn Products Reshoring Awards presented by SEAMS, with strategic partner the Reshoring Initiative, last year. “I know that if we had a chance to help end the war on coronavirus and we punted, I couldn't live with myself.”
Asked to look longer term, Cahn said, “We need a Berry Amendment for medical textiles to keep this from ever happening again!”