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How Alterre Founder, Harmony Pilobello, Is Helping with The Crisis

Posted on April 03 2020

Living in New York has been particularly challenging and worrisome as a small business owner let alone human being. I find myself wondering what I can do to contribute to the solution.  Let's call this complex the "entrepreneurial spirit".  It is the aspect of my personality that has excelled in creative problem solving and thrives on results.

I will now breakdown the solutions I had in order of when I approached them.

 

Option 1: Organize a mass cottage style manufactoring of PPE (personal protective equipment) for healthcare professionals and other critical workers

 

Fabric Waste

My first idea in time of crisis happened right as social distancing was being suggested but not mandatory in the city. I wanted to coordinate the production of PPE weeks before there was a shortage and reached out to large organizations that collect fabric waste from the garment district.

A simple process

1. Collect fabric at donation or at cost with funding from the city

2. redistribute suitable fabric to volunteers able to sew at home or manufactorers willing to practice safety measures. If there is funding, pay for the services

3. collect the finished items

4. sanitize them according to different hospital/organization standards

5. distribute clean masks to the hospital, mta, police force, grocery store employees, etc to be held on reserve for emergency use.

This would solve and alleviate multiple problems that New York inevitably will reach.

1. PPE Shortage resulting in lack of appropriate protection and increased exposure to people protecting us (non essential workers)

2. Using fabric waste produced by the garment district would address an interesting environmental issue and create a temporary opportunity for a better life cycle of fabric waste.

3. With funding, provide some relief to people worried about their job security.

The Solution Summary

Use resources we have on hand as a fashion capitol to sustainably provide valuable emergency PPE for people working to protect us.

Why It Didn't Work

My plan was ambitious and involved other organizations being willing to participate. As every day was changing rapidly in terms of safety precautions, the largest local collector of fashion waste was not interested in contributing. They were worried about the safety of their employees and did not want to risk opening their warehouse to provide 1000's of pounds of fabric. They were also worried about liability as they could not promise fabric content would be what was needed to be effective.

In addition to this, I was also unable to get a hold of the right government officials despite several attempts of following standard "contact us" procedures.  My hope was to receive permission for the organization I wanted to work with to open their doors just... once.

While I understand the decision of the organization, which I'm choosing to anonymously discuss, I do not agree with it.  At the time, non essential business was just closing down and things could have been addressed in a clean, safe way. From a business standpoint, this was a perfect opportunity to at least have a discussion about it and bring public eye to their cause.  Instead, my attempts were met with solid closed doors. By that, I mean email responses that did not offer room for discussion or show any attempt to participate in preemptively solving a crisis.  A very discouraging feeling from a company I've admired and volunteered for in the past.

 

Option 2: Make masks for my loved ones using fabric I had on hand and prioritize friends working in hospitals.

 

Nurses Working at NYU Langone in Masks made by Harmony Pilobello

After the failed attempt to pursue an ambitious project, I decided the best and most immediate thing I could do was to use the fabric I had on hand to make masks for the people around me.  It's been amazing to see how much of the DIY landscape for these masks have changed over the past several weeks.  When I first started looking into this, I spent hours searching for information on what materials to use and best designs. Now I can search "DIY face mask" and it won't be mostly avocado facial recipes.  Every major news outlet or health organization has a suggestion.

Here are some I found useful:

DIY Surgical Mask (perfect for beginners)

A curved mask to wear over an N95

A curved mask for everyday wear (with child friendly patterns)

Custom Mask Pattern Made for Sloane Kettering

By the time I was finished sewing some, my friends in the health care industry urgently needed them.  I am extremely fortunate that our dear friend Monica is a lingerie designer and was willing to donate elastic to my cause.  [We recently interviewed her about small business challenges amidst the pandemic and you can find it here]

The Power of Social Media

An unintended result of sharing what I was doing on social media led to other friends with similar skill sets offering their services and making masks for health care professionals or selling them at cost to friends and acquaintances. Those that were already doing something also reached out and we were able to discuss design alterations together.

Overall, this pandemic has brought me closer to those I've lost touch with and a stronger sense of community within our customer base. I am so thankful for both.I am also so grateful to still be in good health and feeling more motivated to come out of this pandemic stronger as a business owner and individual.

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It's times like these community matters. Let us know how you or someone you know is working to make a difference. We'd love to hear about it!


 

 

 

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