Saving Lives and Saving Jobs: How B Corps Are Pivoting to Produce PPE

April 21, 2020

B Corp Looptworks has shifted its on-site and off-site efforts to produce items in need like reusable, washable, CDC-compliant masks. (Photo courtesy Looptworks)
B Corp Looptworks has shifted its on-site and off-site efforts to produce items in need like reusable, washable, CDC-compliant masks. (Photo courtesy Looptworks)

And How Others Can Help with the Personal Protective Equipment Shortage from Home

What do you do when the world turns upside down? The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented loss of life and livelihoods around the globe, leaving communities, health care systems, economies, and supply chains reeling. But amidst the uncertainty, some businesses have found themselves in a position to help with one of the most pressing topics of the moment: the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Seeing a need and springing into action, several Certified B Corporations have adapted their businesses over a matter of weeks in order to make what matters most. From a Canadian clothing brand to a pet products company in Montana, the companies below are using business as a force for good in ways they could have never imagined, and supporting their workers, supply chains, and communities through a turbulent time. (This online resource highlights B Corps making or selling PPE.)

Here are a few lessons these nimble, pivot-ready B Corps have learned along the way—and ways others can help with the PPE shortage from home.

Start With What You Have

At Kotn, a clothing brand based in Toronto, every product begins with 100% Egyptian cotton. In the wake of a global pandemic, they didn’t have health care expertise to offer, but they had good, raw materials ready and waiting in their warehouse: cotton fabric.

To connect supply with demand, the Kotn team reached out to its networks looking to donate their fabric supply to anyone manufacturing masks. Before long, the company connected with a fellow Canadian clothier—a retailer with an alterations staff. Pairing leftover cotton from previous Kotn collections with a team of tailors sewing at home, the collaboration is now producing thousands of masks per week to deliver to essential workplaces. Learn more about their efforts here.

Burton Health Care Work
A Burton employee, working from home, swaps out the lenses on snowboarding goggles before the company donates them to health care professionals. Photo courtesy Burton.

For Burton, the situation felt personal. A snowboarding brand may not be the most obvious player in a global health crisis, but the B Corp felt called to take urgent action.

Donna Carpenter, chair of the Burton board and wife of the company’s late founder, shared her connection to the medical workers on the front line. “My family cherishes the compassionate doctors, nurses and health care professionals who saved my husband’s life at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in 2015, and also those who cared for him at the University of Vermont Medical Center where he received cancer treatments and end of life care,” she says. “To hear their stories about lack of personal protective equipment is heartbreaking.” When Burton learned that snow goggles could provide necessary eye protection for medical workers, they knew they were in a unique position to help.

They’ve donated more than 1,000 of their snowboarding goggles to hospitals, but that was only the beginning. They’ve also paused production of snowboards and pivoted to making face shields to distribute to hospitals, and they mobilized their supply chain to donate more than 200,000 KN95 masks to the hospitals — starting with Dartmouth-Hitchcock and University of Vermont Medical Center. Learn more about their efforts here.

Build on Existing Relationships

In the B Corp model, businesses must consider the well-being of all stakeholders in everyday decision-making — including workers, customers, and global supply chains. These strong relationships have paid off since the COVID-19 crisis hit.

Fairware, a Vancouver B Corp, is working with supply chains and customers to find creative ways to weather this storm together. Leaning on a strong network of ethical suppliers, they’ve been able to source hard-to-find items like hand sanitizer and assemble a collection of products that many companies need to continue doing business under current circumstances, like safety shields and face masks. Learn more about their efforts here.

Looptworks, a Portland, Oregon, brand specializing in upcycled apparel, discovered that their commitment to stakeholder governance prepared them for the unexpected: “We at Looptworks have found ourselves in a position to do what we do best — reach out to those who need supplies, leverage our dispersed supply chain, and mobilize efforts quickly, all in the nature of contributing solutions rather than continuing business as usual.”

By late March, they had successfully added CDC-compliant fabric face masks to their daily production, without putting workers at risk.

“Due to our long-rooted commitment to community and our B Corporation initiatives, we have long worked with a dispersed workforce that employs single parents, refugees, and other adults with barriers to employment. Whether it be due to specific work schedule needs, physical limitations, or family needs, these employees and partners have home work studios set up with industrial grade equipment.” Learn more about their efforts here.

Saving Lives Can Also Save Jobs

Pivoting to PPE doesn’t just support health care and front-line employees; it stabilizes workforces through an unpredictable economy. As two B Corps realized, producing masks could save lives on the front lines while saving jobs closer to home.

Karen Kane has temporarily paused production to focus on sewing masks for frontline workers.
Photo courtesy Karen Kane.

West Paw, a sustainable pet products company, quickly retooled their factory to meet the needs of the moment. “This is a very challenging time, both health-wise and economically, but helping others is paramount to West Paw’s values,” the Montana B Corp announced.

“West Paw is doing its part to help health care workers with this critical need, as well as creating a safe work environment to keep employees working and earning a paycheck.” By adding masks to their production lines and embracing flex schedules, West Paw has been able to keep their team safe and employed while contributing fabric masks to local hospitals. Learn more about their efforts here.

Karen Kane, an L.A. clothing brand, became a B Corp in the midst of the pandemic and felt a deep responsibility to make the best of a difficult situation.

“This crisis has made us realize just how interconnected so many businesses are in today’s world,” founder Karen Kane said. “We have decided to forgo profit and focus on promoting our products in a way that lets us keep our supply chain moving. We want to order more fabric and keep our fabric mills knitting. We want to keep our factories cutting and sewing. We want to keep our distribution center packing and shipping.”

They’ve temporarily paused clothing production to focus on sewing masks, supporting frontline workers, and keeping sewers employed. With every mask purchased, they’re donating a second mask to a health care worker in need. Learn more about their efforts here.

Here’s How Others Can Get Involved

Wear a mask. When you wear a mask, you protect the people around you and their families at home in the event that you’re carrying the virus without knowing it. (Learn more about CDC mask guidelines here.) If in need of purchasing a mask, consider supporting a small business as they strive to keep teams and suppliers working. And people can also make their own: Designer Gama Carmen from B Corp Eileen Fisher shared a tutorial on making a mask using materials folks may already have at home.

Donate goggles. People inspired by Burton can donate any quantity of new or used goggles to hospitals across the U.S. through the Goggles for Docs initiative.

Contribute to the cause. There are many ways to help from home by donating masks or money. Portland Garment Factory, an Oregon B Corp, is funding their PPE efforts through $1 donations. Anyone can donate homemade masks through, or donate medical-grade masks through (U.S.), (U.S., large quantities only), or (U.S. and Canada). These organizations also accept monetary donations.

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