Contributing to the Cause: Western industries support COVID-19 relief efforts
When one of Equibrand’s employees came to Ken Bray with an idea to make masks in Classic Equine’s production line, he was all for it.
So the machines normally used to make Equibrand’s variety of equine products were converted to produce PPE masks.
Equibrand, the parent company for Classic Equine, Martin Saddlery, Rattler Rope, Classic Rope and Cashel Co., manufactures in multiple locations in northern Texas. Granbury, Texas, home to its distribution and production facility, became the site for the making of PPE masks along with saddle pads, equine therapeutics, protective boots, cinches and more.
It all started with Elena Mata, one of Equibrand’s employees. When the pandemic hit in early March, she found a mask pattern online and began sewing them at home in the evenings and weekends.
Equibrand’s Classic Equine is deemed an essential business, as it produces veterinary and animal health products, so the operations were excluded from closure during the COVID-19 mitigation period.
And when Mata approached Cooper Flinn, production manager for Classic Equine, he took the idea to Bray, Equibrand’s CEO.
It took a bit of adjustment and modification at the Granbury location, Flinn said. The machines used for most equine products are too big to make small PPE masks. But the company has smaller machines, used for sewing labels, fly masks and other equine products that were convertible and well suited for the operation. Some employees brought their personal machines from home to help with the process.
The crew was capable of handling the job. “We have a lot of experience in sewing and cutting,” Flinn said.
Equibrand also had the startup materials on hand. They used high grade cotton and when they ran out of their own product, they bought raw materials locally, “as much as we could, trying to help everybody in the community,” Bray said.
The masks are being donated to the sheriff’s departments, fire departments, first responders, nursing homes and medical clinics in Hood, Hunt and Erath Counties, Texas, where Equibrand employees live.
The masks have an insert where an N95 filter can be slipped in. “They are re-usable and washable,” Bray said. They’re not the grade used in ICUs and hospitals, but they can be used by those dealing with the public. “It’s a quality product,” he said. “Our people take a lot of pride in them. They’re very well made.”
Production started in late March, and it didn’t take much time to get up to speed, Flinn said. “We can move pretty fast on new stuff. We have a pretty experienced team. We have the skill set, to mass produce.”
Each of Equibrand’s 258 employees is being paid through the shutdown. The Granbury location, where the masks are being made, is open, as is the fiber and rope production facility in Stephenville, Texas. The Greenville, Texas location, where saddles and leather products are made, is shut down, but everyone is still on the payroll.
Even though overall demand has decreased due to the virus, Bray chooses to pay his people because they’re part of his team. “Our people are everything,” he said. In 2015, the rope production facility burned to the ground, and “we kept employees on the payroll throughout its rebuilding. You can’t replace good people.”
The Stephenville (Texas) Medical and Surgical Clinic was grateful for the Equibrand masks they received.
Jenna Sanchez, practice administrator, said getting enough masks “continues to be our number one concern. So far, we’ve been OK with gowns, face shields, surgeon caps and shoe covers, but N95s and masks have been a day by day concern.” She also pointed out that prices for masks have increased, which puts a strain on their budget.
“We’ve really been able to use the reusable fabric masks for most of our staff. It makes the surgical masks and N95s last longer, to conserve our supply.”
Another western industry is making masks.
Hooey has transformed American Made Cap Company’s production line, located in Crowell, Texas, from cap manufacturing to mask production.
“Like everyone else, we’ve been searching for a way to contribute,” said Joey Austin, Hooey Brands founder and president. Masks are made from repurposed Hooey t-shirts, with parts from caps used for straps and seams.
Masks made by Hooey will be donated to healthcare systems and first responders. They will be available to the general public for purchase online. Medical facilities can request donated masks by emailing email@example.com. Profits from masks sold to the public will be used to make and donate more masks.
Production at Hooey began on April 6, and, a week later, over 500 masks had been made.
Hooey’s masks also have a pocket where an N95 filter can be inserted. Medical professionals are using the Hooey masks, which are re-usable and washable, over their N95 masks, to extend their life.
Hooey is keeping their workers employed making the masks, and being able to contribute to the nation’s crisis is good, said Austin. “Converting the factory to produce cloth masks is our way to help our employees help the country. In these unprecedented times, we’re best served when we’re creative and stay positive.”
For Equibrand’s Flinn and Bray, it is a point of pride to make the masks.
Flinn mentions a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “Those with the privilege to know have the responsibility to act,” he said. “We have the skills, and we could help. We wanted to do what we could.”
Bray had the same sentiments as Austin: making masks was something they could do to help. “It’s been overwhelming, to be honest,” he said. “We knew there was a critical need, but the magnitude of the need is unimaginably massive.
“The outpouring of support from the equine community and the daily requests for masks has been heartfelt and very, very humbling. We will donate about $25,000 worth of masks over the next few weeks, but that number won’t scratch the surface in getting first responders and health care workers supplied with all they need to stay safe and do their jobs.”
Bray says the western culture responds differently to crises like COVID-19.
“There’s something about people that throw hay over a fence. They’re just a little bit more caring, a little bit tougher. They’re more of the people who get things done. That’s pretty much the mentality, nature and culture of the western industry.”
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