VF And Dickies® Begin Making Urgently Needed Medical Isolation Gowns for Healthcare Workers
- Employees at VF and Dickies® have worked tirelessly to convert manufacturing at several VF manufacturing facilities to medical isolation gowns for hospitals.
- VF worked with fabric suppliers and leveraged existing expertise in workwear and protective gear to quickly switch production.
- VF is taking a people-first approach to reopening factories, implementing new safety and sanitation procedures to protect and support workers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline healthcare workers urgently need more supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep themselves and their patients safe. While the shortage of face masks, face shields and hospital gowns has been widely reported, it is no small task for companies to shift gears and manufacture products they don’t typically offer.
Answering the call, VF and legacy workwear brand Dickies have worked for weeks to convert manufacturing facilities in Mexico and Honduras to begin producing FDA-compliant medical isolation gowns. Specifically, the company plans to deliver 50,000 gowns to hospitals in May and build the capacity to deliver up to 3.4 million gowns by September.
Alix Reyes Martin, Senior Director, Engineering, VF Supply Chain Americas, and the project lead for the isolation gown project, said the process of converting manufacturing during the COVID-19 pandemic has been “a bit of a rollercoaster,” with teams in the U.S. and Latin America working long hours to manage the logistics to switch over manufacturing and establish protocols for factory safety.
Knowing VF had the capacity and capabilities to produce a significant number of gowns quickly and efficiently, in early March, several hospital groups and fabric supplier Milliken and Company approached the VF Procurement Group about the possibility of manufacturing PPE. With unanimous support from VF leadership, the teams went to work and quickly turned to the engineering teams based in Latin America and the Dickies merchandising team in Nashville to iron out details.
“We immediately started working on potential samples for an isolation gown,” Reyes said. “We started collaborating with the merchandising, procurement and factory teams to determine how many gowns we could make and how quickly.”
VF was able to take advantage of the existing expertise of Dickies and VF workwear brands, which already manufacture protective gear such as scrubs, lab coats and disposable coveralls, to help the company pivot quickly to making isolation gowns.
“One of the virtues of workwear is the great variety of product categories we make. All of our facilities are flexible and can produce different types of products,” Reyes said. “We were able to re-balance our capacity and re-purpose machines to build isolation gown production lines at each of our factories.”
And while helping healthcare workers and the COVID-19 response, VF remains focused on another important goal: protecting and supporting all VF employees.
“There’s been a huge effort to make sure when we bring factories back online, we do it safely,” Reyes said. “While we’re doing all these activities to get the facility ready for production, we have teams working to make sure our associates feel safe coming back to work and are confident we’re doing everything to protect them.”
The factories implemented safety protocol and procedures that include strict social distancing in the buses transporting workers to the factory, in the facility and in common areas such as the cafeteria. Sanitation procedures will be more stringent, and workers and visitors will receive temperature screening before entering the facilities. VF also provided training videos, fliers and posters with health and safety information.
While local and national regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic may vary, VF is holding all factories to the highest safety standards to protect workers.
“Every time we have a country or state that we operate in enact a stricter rule or guideline, we typically implement it in all of our factories, so we are often going above and beyond local standards,” Reyes said.
VF is also committed to supporting all its workers financially during the crisis. While factories in Mexico and Honduras were closed, associates continued to receive compensation in accordance to Government guidelines. As associates return to work to make isolation gowns, they have the opportunity to increase their earnings to production hourly rates. For a small subset of workers who will not be returning to work because they were identified as high-risk or who are required to self-isolate, VF is also paying in accordance to Government guidelines.
“All of us are excited to be producing medical gowns,” said Malu Calvo, Senior Manager Engineering, VF Internal Manufacturing Mexico. “The gown line has been well received by the plant and the community. It feels good to be contributing in our line of work to the fight against COVID-19.”
Reyes said he is proud of VF’s people-first approach to managing the global health crisis and its commitment to workers.
“We are all really excited about making a contribution to relief efforts through a product that is needed while executing a solid program for the benefit of our workers,” he said.
And the work is not done. This initiative by Dickies is one part of a growing response by VF, The VF Foundation and its brands to support hospitals and local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other efforts include more than $9.7 million donations in cash, in-kind product and PPE gear to support a vast array of COVID-19 relief support efforts. To learn more about VF’s comprehensive “people-first” approach to the fight against COVID-19, please see the VFC.com