Karla Colletto Swimwear has been making chic, sophisticated swimwear for 30 years. But instead of sewing machines in their factory in Virginia humming along to craft plunging one-pieces and playful bikinis, they will soon be making surgical masks instead to help fight the coronavirus. “We decided to take action to help make PPE supplies because we realized we were in the unique position to help the nurses and doctors on the front line,” says Karla Colletto, co-founder of Karla Colletto Swimwear. “As stores began cancelling or postponing orders, we needed to shift gears and repurpose our facility in order to bring back our workforce and help the community.”

They’re not the only fashion brand pitching in during this unprecedented time. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked for help for the medical supply chain on Twitter, Christian Siriano replied that he was in and is mobilizing his sewing team, who is working from home, to help make masks. Rag & Bone responded to a similar plea, and Brandon Maxwell, Prabal Gurung and Los Angeles Apparel are also pitching in, to name a few.

Prabal Gurung - Runway - February 2020 - New York Fashion Week: The Shows

Designer Prabal Gurung, here walking the runway for Prabal Gurung during New York Fashion Week on … [+] February 11, 2020 in New York City, has pivoted to produce PPE for medical workers and first responders to fight coronavirus. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)

Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows

As the coronavirus crisis is constantly evolving, so do the needs to fight it, with new FDA and state regulations in flux. For the last week, Prabal Gurung’s team has been working with Governor Cuomo’s office and local hospitals to finalize an action plan to manufacture PPE for medical workers and first responders. “The fashion industry is a community that possesses an immense amount of heart and innovation, and fashion designers are the soul of this industry,” Gurung says. “Designers, publishers, retailers, manufacturers—all of us—are unified in our intent and great desire to help by providing a robust and effective response to the coronavirus crisis. We are all evolving to meet the standards prescribed by the government to produce safe and necessary personal protection to ensure the safety of medical workers, patients and the community. In this moment of information overload, confirmed and factual information is what will be crucial to my team, and the fashion industry’s COVID-19 relief efforts.”

Before Governor Cuomo called for people to stay inside and practice social distancing, Brandon Maxwell took measures to safeguard his staff two weeks ago by allowing everyone at the studio to work from home. “We equipped the atelier with sewing machines and our administrative team with computers so that they could keep working on the collections,” Maxwell says. “In response to the global need for PPE in hospitals, we decided to dedicate our time to creating gowns and mask covers. It was important for us to use our resources and help in some way. We were able to secure a durable technical fabric that is breathable and fluid repellent for the gowns. There is a massive shortage of medical fabrics in the market so we’re using the next best option until the antimicrobial medical fabrics become available. Large companies have reached out to donate materials so we have 100% cotton that we will use to create the mask covers. As more medical grade textiles become available, we’ll transition into using those fabrications. We are open to hearing from anyone who has any information on donation locations or organizations that need these supplies.” 

Like so many other industries, coronavirus has had a deep impact on the fashion world’s economy. “This must be a very difficult time for everyone,” says Lisa Rovan, co-founder of Karla Colletto Swimwear. “We can only speak for Karla Colletto Swimwear, but currently 10% of our orders have been cancelled with the balance being postponed to later deliveries. We have stopped production until further notice. Making supplies will help us bring the workforce back for the months to come.” Gurung’s brand produces over 90% of their collections in New York City, so they hope that their efforts will not only help those on the frontlines of the COVID-19, but also revitalize US producers and suppliers.

The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion - Street Sightings

Fashion designer Brandon Maxwell, with Lady Gaga at last year’s Met Gala, is making gowns and mask … [+] covers. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images)

GC Images

For Karla Colletto Swimwear, having their own facility makes them more nimble. “[It] enables us to switch gears quickly and our skilled employees are ready to work,” Colletto says. “Out of 40 employees, 22 are skilled sewing machine operators. Our hope is to bring all of them back to work as soon as possible, but we are still trying to determine how many we’ll bring back for this project. We can arrange machinery in accordance with the CDC distancing guidelines.” For example, they will arrange the machines six feet apart. “We have not yet reopened; we are currently working with suppliers to receive materials as well as government agencies and authorized distributors, so we can begin producing personal protective equipment within the appropriate guidelines,” Rovan says. They’ll start with producing surgical masks, but are willing to make gowns as well, or anything needed that can be done in their facility.

Beauty brands are also doing their part, as beauty behemoths Coty, L’Oreal and LVMH announced they will all start making hand sanitizer for European hospitals. Companies are responding stateside as well, such as Apostrophe, a telemedicine platform focusing on dermatology that is refocusing its efforts to produce hand sanitizer. “This is how we can make the greatest impact,” says Ben Holber, Apostrophe CEO and Co-Founder. “The FDA announced the shortage of compounding pharmacies to respond to the national shortage. We immediately purchased our first 58 gallon barrel of isopropyl alcohol and started sourcing bottles. We all want to do what we can to help.”

Apostrophe’s hand sanitizers will be available for sale for the public—which is crucial in stopped the spread of coronavirus—and they will donate 100% of profits to the WHO COVID-19 Response Fund. “Our hand sanitizer strictly follows the guidelines of the WHO,” Holber says. “As a compounding pharmacy, we precisely follow the formula to ensure it works as intended. We’ve noticed a lot of people making their own sanitizers at home. While I love the resourcefulness, many of these recipes are made incorrectly and put the user at risk. If the recipe is unreliable, it gives one a false sense of security.”

Ultimately, by these beauty and fashion brands big and small banding together, they are proving everyone can do their part to fight coronavirus—even if that’s as simple as staying at home. “Although we cannot physically be together right now, we believe that we will come out of this stronger as a team,” Maxwell says. “It is important for us to rise to the occasion not only for each other, but for the communities that rely on us.”