By Audrey Cooney
Wicked Local South/Mariner, Marshfield, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Jill Palese and Daniel Rakauskas were all set to launch a swimwear line but then the Coronavirus hit. Not missing a beat, they started making masks and gowns. Interestingly, the stitching used for swimsuits is similar to what’s needed for medical personal protective equipment, which has to be far more impervious to liquid than normal clothes.
Daniel Rakauskas and Jill Palese were all set to launch their new clothing branch, Call 2 Action, in May. The designs for their first collection of swimsuits were all finalized, the website was nearly done and they had just ordered all the fabric and trimmings.
But before they could tell the factory they were working with to start production, the coronavirus pandemic hit. Non-essential businesses closed their doors, and normal life screeched to a halt.
The two entrepreneurs immediately put their plans on hold.
Rakauskas said Call 2 Action is designed to be gentle on the environment and ethically sourced. If many clothing stores are filled with “fast fashion” — relatively cheap items made in far-away sweatshops meant to be worn for a few years and then thrown away — he and Palese wanted to create “slow fashion,” clothing made from recycled or regenerative materials that is manufactured in North America and made to last.
Their focus on being socially conscious made it obvious that they should hold off on officially launching their branch and instead look for a way to assist during the pandemic, Rakauskas said.
“It’s almost obligatory for us to try and do something to help,” he said. “It didn’t make a sense to launch a company and try to sell swimwear when coronavirus is impacting everything about people’s lives.”
Palese, a clothing designer by trade, quickly began sewing cloth masks to donate to medical workers. She soon became one of the lead coordinators of a group of volunteers from across the South Shore working to make and distribute masks and face shields for frontline workers.
Hospital workers were thrilled to receive that masks, Rakauskas said. But, they mentioned that they would soon also be running low on gear like scrubs and medical gowns.
So, the two business owners used the $50,000 they had set aside to produce their first batch of inventory to instead buy medical-grade fabric and other needed materials like fasteners, and ship it to their factory in the Dominican Republic. They bought enough fabric for about 10,000 gowns, Rakauskas said.
After using their own money to buy all the needed materials, he and Palese are now fundraising to pay for the actual production costs of the gowns. A GoFundMe they created on April 8 has already raised more than $14,000.
The two are also hoping to have corporations make donations to support the project. They need about $75,000 to make gowns from all the material they already have.
“We’re gonna make it, and we’re gonna figure out how to pay for it later,” Rakauskas said.
Rakauskas said they will begin actually making the gowns as soon as they get approval from the FDA on their design, which Palese created herself.
The stitching used for swimsuits is similar to what’s needed for medical personal protective equipment, which has to be far more impervious to liquid than normal clothes, Rakauskas said.
Once the final approval comes through, the gowns could be in Massachusetts in just a few weeks, Rakauskas said. They’re aiming to have the gowns in hand and begin distributing them to hospitals by the end of May, just as PPE shortages are expected to become especially critical.
They’re working with the Manufacturing Emergency Response Team, a new initiative by the Massachusetts government focused on connecting with companies with the ability to pivot to making PPE during the pandemic. The state has said they will need 10 million surgical gowns over the coming weeks, Rakauskas said.
He said he hopes Call 2 Action will finally be able to launch this fall. For now, the company’s website redirects to a single page letting visitors know it has shifted its focus entirely to making PPE, with no mention of swimsuits.
Rakauskas said they haven’t thought twice about temporarily abandoning the project he and Palese have both poured untold hours into.
“This is a tiny, little thing we’re doing,” he said. “We have those hero frontline workers out there who every day are risking their lives.”
Follow Audrey Cooney on Twitter at @Audrey__Cooney.
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