Amanda Curtis shifted the focus of her on-demand manufacturing platform, N.A.bld
, from fashion to face masks when federal health officials advised healthcare workers to bring scarves and bandanas to work when caring for COVID-19 patients.
Curtis's husband, a doctor of internal medicine, works on the front lines in a busy Boston hospital system — a system not unlike the many healthcare facilities across the U.S. They are currently facing dangerously low supplies
of N95 face masks, personal protective equipment (PPE), and the other essential safety gear needed to protect medical personnel as they work alongside patients impacted by the coronavirus.
"Be prepared to bring a bandana? That was the point where I decided, 'There's a better solution. We can do better than that,'" says Curtis, who in 2019 launched New York-based N.A.bld (pronounced "enabled") with co-founder Gemma Sole. The two created N.A.bld as a stand-alone manufacturing production platform for Nineteenth Amendment
, a direct-to-consumer retailing and manufacturing SaaS platform they launched in 2013.
On-demand Platform Connects With U.S. Manufacturers To Help In Crisis
With the clock ticking on this mounting challenge, "Buy a Mask, Give a Mask"
went live on March 20. The pivot took shape quickly, kicking into gear two days after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended bandanas as a last-gasp solution for the healthcare community in combating the nation's dwindling supply of medical-grade masks.
N.A.bld's mask initiative relies on its partner network of small-batch manufacturers to produce thousands of washable cotton face masks that healthcare professionals can wear over their N95 respirators and medical equipment to preserve the longevity of the masks.
Nineteenth Amendment's enterprise SaaS platform regularly fills on-demand fashion orders for such behemoth brands as Macy's
, and has powered the shoppable content for Bravo's Project Runway
for its last two seasons.
One foreseeable roadblock was accessing fabric for the reusable masks. The company's main suppliers are in New York, California, and New Jersey—three of the dozens of states that instituted short-term closures for "non-essential" businesses in order to curb the pandemic.
"It was an issue because the manufacturers could not operate without fabric, and we knew we needed to get fabric to them as soon as possible," Curtis says. With orders for thousands of masks coming in at a rapid fire rate, the rush was on.
Enter N.A.bld's partner, online distributor Fabric.com
. This crucial piece of the supply chain, and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) subsidiary, is headquartered in Georgia, a state that has not yet imposed "non-essential" restrictions on businesses.
Fabric face masks for frontline COVID-19 responders become all the rage
Requests for the cotton masks from nursing homes, hospitals, fire stations and urgent care centers soared past 10,000 in the first two days. Within the first two hours of going live, Beth Israel Deaconess Lahey at Boston's Harvard Medical School ordered 8,000. A fire station in Arizona sent a video
showing all the people who would be protected by the masks. A healthcare facility in Seattle, down to its last three masks, needed help to fill that gap immediately.
Fabric.com donated the cotton materials. The supplier is shipping direct to participating production facilities from its warehouse in Georgia. Designers and other creatives are working 24-7 to fill the orders.
Because N.A.bld's's design platform is SaaS-based, it provides a solution that is able to mobilize a remote community of sewers and manufacturers
, while also keeping them isolated and safe. Individual sewers and hobbyists, too, can access a full tech pack
for a fabric face mask, step-by-step instructions, a printable pattern and free support resources to make the masks in the safety of their homes.
"It's really beautiful to see the entire fashion industry come together on this," says Curtis. In the broader application, a solution that was created to change the landscape of the fashion industry is the same solution powering a movement to address need during a global pandemic.
Powering A Vision At The Intersection Of Tech And Fashion
Curtis and Sole met at the first class of Startup Institute at Harvard i-lab's in 2012. Their backgrounds — Curtis's as a head designer at a fashion company and Sole's in venture capital and startups — unlocked an opportunity to develop one of the most sustainable models for an industry known for creating excessive pollution and waste
Working closely with US based manufacturers, designers, and established retailers, the women-led company developed data-driven, real-time technology that enables retailers and brands to launch unique garments intelligently and without waste.
Shortly after, N.A.bld was created as a stand-alone, design-to-delivery production platform to aid Nineteenth Amendment's existing marketplace. Using vetted U.S. manufacturers to support the production platform, manufacturing time is cut from six months to six weeks, eliminating the need for brands to carry inventory that might not be sold. The scalable, revenue-generating platform currently services over 1,000 brands in 30 countries.
Studies Show Women Perform Better In Crisis
In January 2019, Nineteenth Amendment participated in a program designed to connect women founders with impact investors. Curtis and Sole received a $100,000 investment
through Chloe Capital, the founders' first women investors. Chloe Capital
is a seed-stage venture capital firm that invests in women-led innovation companies. The firm's mission is to advance solutions to the diversity gap in entrepreneurship and venture capital.
Securing seed funding is recurrently a problem for female founders. Only 8% of partners at top venture capital firms are female, and according to Pitchbook
, less than 3% of women-led companies receive VC funding. This alarming statistic comes despite studies that show women-led companies perform better and lead better in crisis, and that women CEOs in the Fortune 1000 drove three times the returns
as S&P 500 enterprises run predominantly by men. A separate survey by Credit Suisse
found that companies with more female executives in decision-making positions generate stronger market returns and better profits.
The prospects, however, are promising. Two recent reports by Morgan Stanley
point to a future where women are positioned to drive the economic conversation — as a workforce and as consumers powering discretionary spending and GDP.
A Grassroots Effort That Everyone Can Support
Meanwhile, two fierce women innovators at the helm of Nineteenth Amendment and N.A.bld have fashioned a solution to produce cotton face masks for the frontline healthcare community.
To help fund production costs, the "Buy a Mask, Give a Mask" campaign was launched on NineteenthAmendment.com.
Manufacturers can also sign on to produce the masks if their jurisdictions permit them to do so. People can purchase a face mask for themselves while donating face masks to centers of need in quantities of 5 to 1,000. They can also get a free fabric face mask template, complete with digital pattern, suggested materials and sourcing to make masks at home. All proceeds from the 100% not-for-profit initiative go toward the creation and distribution of masks. Donors can monitor their impact on nabld.com/make-a-face-mask
, where progress is tracked daily in the "Updates" section.