Even before "quarantine" and "stay-at-home order" were household phrases, Megan Eddings was starting to see a dip in her business due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Eddings is the founder of Accel Lifestyle, a fitness apparel company which created an antibacterial fabric called "Prema," which results in funk-free workout clothes.
In March, Eddings saw an article published by the CDC about the desperate need for face masks in healthcare institutions. She had 1,000 yards of Prema in Houston, where the business is based. Within 24 hours, Eddings was in touch with every hospital in Houston's Medical Center, the world's largest complex of hospitals. Everyone was interested in the idea. The president of one hospital, MD Anderson, responded within three minutes on a Saturday.
"That's when I knew this was going to work," says Eddings. In the space of a few weeks she was able to transition Accel from an apparel company, to a medical supplier.
Accel is now employing 40 people just to sew all of the masks. The majority are going to the Texas Medical Center in Houston, but other hospitals in Rhode Island and Ohio have come calling as well. The California factory that makes Accel's activewear is currently closed, so every bit of Prema that's already made is now being formed into masks, with more of the fabric being crafted soon.
Eddings says the new product will now make up a significant aspect of her business. She's also working on setting up a separate company just for the masks. Several major airlines have also asked her to supply them with masks, which will mean manufacturing more than a million masks. The company has made more than 17,000 to date.
Accel isn't the only company I know that has switched from fashion to masks: R. Riveter, a military-affiliated handbag brand, is asking both their workers, whom they call "Riveters," and other supporters to become "Modern Day Rosies" and answer one of the country's greatest needs right now by crafting masks. They're providing a template to make homemade masks to donate where they're needed.
One of my other favorite pivots that has become wonderfully common is distillers switching from making vodka and whiskey to churning out hand sanitizer. (Although I hope for my sake they keep the booze coming too.) Everyone from small businesses like Houston's Grateful Dane Distilling to global behemoths like Bacardi have taken advantage of relaxed rules from the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau -- which have made it easier and faster for companies to gain approval and make the adjustment from one kind of production to the other. My favorite gin maker Tara Jasper at Sipsong is now a supplier of hand sanitizer for northern California.
As a founder, flexible thinking is your calling card. You can find top resources on how to pivot your company in the COVID-19 Business Resource Center from Alice, the free business advice platform where I'm president and chairwoman.
Now is the time to put on your thinking cap. It can be the difference between your business surviving and having to close. And don't be afraid to ask for help. "Ask people what they think you can do to pivot your service or product at this time," advises Eddings. "We only think in our own reality and with something like this, getting outside input is crucial."