DIFFERENTREGARD designs & manufactures sustainable men & women apparel, building wardrobes for your Professional, Personal and Social Lifestyle, offering ready to wear, made to measure and custom options. They measure for a perfect fit, troubleshoot pieces in the shop and work to meet each client’s specific style tastes. Needless to say, shifting to mass production of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic presented them with a steep learning curve.
Art Director & Founder Dominick Davis said that after Baltimore’s economy largely shut down in early March, he and his team members spent an entire week discussing their options, researching and trying to decide on the best way forward. At the time, they didn’t have much experience with high-volume production, lacked the equipment needed to make their output more efficient and were staring down the uncertainty about how the coronavirus crisis would play out.
They had some clarity, though — a sense of purpose inspiring them to meet the moment.
“We all knew exactly what we were here to do — helping to save lives the best way we could by preventing the spread of coronavirus,” Davis said.
A few months earlier, DIFFERENTREGARD graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. One goal they’d discussed was to diversify their business, and even then they had thought about expanding into medical and other technical textiles. The pandemic simply pushed them in that direction more quickly — much more quickly.
Davis said that they knew they had to understand the challenges facing their community so that they could do their part to meet those challenges.
“As a small business owner, your objective is to understand the pain and do your best to solve the problem of your market needs,” he said. “We have learned, and we’re still learning. I think we’ve acquired a decent amount of knowledge in a really short amount of time.”
Scaling up their operations in just a few weeks presented challenges to the process. They weren’t used to buying thousands of yards of fabric at a time. A roll of a few hundred yards might weigh 140 pounds, making it impossible to handle for one person and unwieldy even for two people. They had to implement quality control measures, a step that was essentially built in to their typical custom production. They used to cut each piece by hand with scissors.
They estimated that they could make 500 masks in a day. When they fell short of that goal at first, they kept working to make production more efficient.
“We had to find a process, and once we defined that process, it took a few troubleshoots just to ramp up the speed,” Davis said. “We didn’t fail. It’s just that we had to learn the process. Now, we’re exceeding that in a day.”
After sharing job openings with Made In Baltimore’s Home Sewers Network, they’ve also been able to bring on six new hires to help streamline their production process. Davis was proud to have offered more jobs to Baltimoreans at a moment when they’re more needed than ever, adding that several of team members were recent graduates of MICA or Stevenson University.
With a grant for PPE manufacturing from Baltimore Development Corporation, they invested in six new sewing machines and other equipment. Upgrading from scissors to a rotary cutter lets them slice through fifty layers of fabric at once. And a stand for those heavy rolls of fabric helps them unroll yard after yard to cut more masks with much less hassle.
DIFFERENTREGARD offers a wide range of face mask styles for adults and kids — everything from basic black to turquoise lace to iridescent gold — which you can browse on their online store. In addition to masks, they also produce medical gowns. Davis said that while he finds them less complicated to put together, they take up much more material — a single gown requires two yards of fabric, which could yield up to 200 masks.
These gowns have largely been fulfilling orders in Baltimore City. They’ve sent PPE to funeral homes, dental offices and even the firefighter’s academy. As people on the front lines fighting coronavirus right here in Charm City, Davis said, these people need quality protection.
“We’re born and raised in Baltimore City,” he said. “To start a business in the city, and now to know that people can use our services and our experience, to be making something that is so essential to everyday life now — we feel honored that we are a part of this project, and that we’re able to fulfill their needs.”
Thanks for reading! Please visit DIFFERENTREGARDS’s online store for masks and other custom-made apparel here.
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