VAN WERT — An area manufacturer of women’s handbags is now making personal protective equipment to shore up Ohio’s supply of face masks, isolation gowns and other safety materials that have become essential for healthcare workers and the public alike amid the coronavirus pandemic.
KAM Manufacturing in Van Wert, known for its Stephanie Dawn handbags, has made more than 40,000 personal-use face masks — sold in colorful designs that mimic the handbag brand’s patterns — and 60,000 disposable and reusable isolation gowns since April.
The company has received $500,000 in grant funding from the Ohio Development Service Agency’s PPE retooling and reshoring program.
Ollie Adams, owner of KAM, said the grant will help the company hire 20 new full-time production workers and upgrade its machinery and technology, like cutting and sewing equipment.
KAM plans to hire another 20-50 employees by the end of 2020 as the company ramps up production of disposable and reusable isolation gowns, personal use face masks and other in-demand PPE.
It typically takes 6-12 months to convert a production line, KAM marketing manager Ty Coil said, but the Van Wert company was able to do so in just a matter of weeks.
The company retained a small team in March and April for essential services, which Coil said prompted internal discussions to find new products that could be made on-site while non-essential businesses were shut down. The process took about one month, after which KAM was able to bring back the rest of its team, she said.
“Did we ever think we’d make medical PPE?” Coil asked. “Probably not. But it’s nice that we are able to do so.”