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Two local companies retool to make masks


LAWRENCE — The creative folks at National Fiber Technology didn’t have much to do when Hollywood stopped making movies and orders for their furry masks and suits dried up.

But President Kim Clark, whose company leases space at the Everett Mill on Union Street, wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel.

“Two of our biggest clients have shut down,” said Clark, whose company is famous for making the Chewbacca costume for the Star Wars movies. “I

See MASKS, Page 6

„ „ Continued from Page 1 have 16 employees. I don’t want to lay them off, but I don’t have any work.”

That’s when they were contacted by the folks at Debbie’s Treasure Chest, a nonprofit located in the same Everett Mill building.

“They hooked us up with Lawrence General Hospital, as well as the City of Methuen and the local MSPCA, which had donated all their surgical masks to the hospital,” Clark said. The MSPCA needed non-surgical masks to replace the surgical masks they had donated. And Lawrence General, along with the City of Methuen, both needed masks for employees.

NFT’s staff quickly made the switch from sewing masks for Chewbacca -- the lovable hero and sidekick to Han Solo — to making face masks for people who are looking for a first line of defense against the coronavirus.

NFT is now making “nonmedical grade masks” for employees who don’t regularly interact with patients but who may want to wear something to keep them safe in a work environment that could be considered high risk.

“We have the skills and the machinery, so I said, ‘Let’s just keep going,’” she said. “We’ll make them and donate them to whoever needs them. And we’re keeping everybody on salary and continuing their health care coverage.”

Initially, she said, the company was deemed “nonessential,” Clark said. But as soon as they started making the masks, mill owner Marianne Paley Nadel said they could stay open.

“Marianne has been great, allowing us to stay and work,” Clark said.

She said almost everyone at the company knows how to sew, and it only took a little re-tooling to make the company compliant with the state rules.

“The sewing machines are at least six feet apart and everyone wears a mask who is working on a mask,” she said, adding that other safety precautions have been implemented, such as no longer sharing tools and constantly sanitizing work stations.

“Clorox wipes are tough to come by, so we have been making our own disinfectant,” she added. “We’re doing anything we can to help.”

She said the company is not charging for the masks.

Columbia ASC owner Sal Messina said he also has three of his 12 employees working on masks for the hospital.

“One of my suppliers supplied the material, and the hospital is supplying the filter material,” he said.

Work on the masks started Tuesday afternoon, he said, adding that he estimated that once they make the templates and everyone gets up to speed, they will be able to push out 100 a day.

Normally, the company sews upholstery for cars, boats and airplanes while also doing work for the Department of Defense. Business has slowed for commercial customers, but the company continues work for the defense department, he said.

He isn’t charging for the masks, either.

“We’re here to help,” he said.

The elements of safety masks are laid out for assembly at National Fiber Technology in Lawrence. The company has heeded the call for people who know how to sew -- something their workers do every day.

Courtesy photo

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