For 38 years, we have been manufacturing handbags, belts and other accessories using imported Italian leather. We also supply leather goods for just about every designer boutique in New York City. My dad started the business after emigrating from Lebanon with $400 in his pocket. We’re a classic American success story, but right now our survival, and the livelihoods of our 40 employees, is in serious jeopardy.
Although handbags are not essential during a pandemic, our machinery and industrial capacity should not lay dormant. Our factories can be converted in a matter of days to produce thousands of protective masks and gowns for health care workers every day. We have already sourced three-ply polypropylene non-woven fabric for masks and polyethylene plastic for gowns. The masks we produce will not match the FDA safety standards of N95 masks, but N95 masks are in very short supply. The polyethylene gowns may meet FDA standards, but we need guidance to be certain.
If the hospitals will buy our masks, our employees can return to work and join the fight against coronavirus. I’m not doing this to make a profit — I just want to help by putting our machines and our people to use. We will, of course, stagger our employees’ hours and create separation on the manufacturing floor to ensure our employees are safe. I have reached out to the city and state and hope to hear back from them soon.
Meanwhile, I’m also looking at every resource, government grant and loan program. The emergency $10,000 grant in the federal stimulus package is nice, but already my small business is losing $20,000 each day.
Our company lost half of our employees after 9/11, but bounced back to open a second factory in 2012. We also survived the 2008 recession without any help from the government. The difference now is that we are deemed nonessential, so we have to temporarily close. We are going to fight every single day through this crisis. But we need the government, including the Food and Drug Administration, to help us get certified and guide us to manufacture masks and protective gear and provide us with the grants we need to weather this storm.
To paraphrase New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, we will fight and win, because we are New Yorkers. I’m proud to be here, to carry on my father’s legacy and fight this virus alongside my neighbors.