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Company Invokes Rosie the Riveter for Mask Project

Posted on May 12, 2020

Bruce Platzman is not one to sit back in a crisis.

In 2001, the CEO of office-furniture manufacturer AIS in Leominster ramped up to make hundreds of workstations for the Pentagon in the days following 9/11.

Now, Platzman and his team at AIS are thinking big to address the persistent shortage of personal protective equipment experienced by medical personnel and first responders during the COVID-19 crisis. Platzman wants nothing less than to re-create the World War II “Rosie the Riveter” theme as part of a non-profit collaboration between sewers, businesses and AIS to make one million masks for medical and safety professionals.

The effort is called Sew the Masks.

“Rosie the Riveter exemplified a sense of community and cooperation by celebrating the women who worked in factories during World War II when most of the male work force went to war,” said Platzman, who co-founded AIS in 1989.

“We’re trying to create a similar sense of community by facilitating connections among people who sew, generous businesses and emergency personnel who desperately need quality protective equipment in the face of the COVID-19 virus.”

Sew the Masks allows people throughout the country to volunteer to sew protective masks using pre-cut material provided in a kit from AIS. The two-layer masks were developed in consultation with medical professionals and are designed to block moisture and particulates using nanotechnology and an antimicrobial outer layer that is water repellant.

Approximately 100 people throughout New England have so far volunteered to sew masks for the program. Once the sewer returns the completed masks to AIS, the company seeks donations from businesses that want to receive the masks and donate them to local hospitals, police and fire departments, nursing homes or homeless shelters.

Companies can obtain 1,000 masks for a donation of $4,000.

“Instead of simply writing a check, the program allows businesses and their employees to get involved and help those in their communities who most need this equipment,” Platzman said.

AIS does not profit from the project.

It’s a hectic side venture for a company with 700 employees that has operated as an essential business throughout the crisis making office furniture for hospitals, triage centers and government installations. AIS initially turned over one of its five assembly lines to make protective masks and donated them to the police and fire departments in its hometown of Leominster and to the University of Massachusetts Neonatal Intensive Care unit.

First responders told AIS that masks were in short supply and that the market was flooded with untested, counterfeit products. And making masks was a natural transition for a company that sews plenty of fabric in the course of making 500 office chairs a day.

It was when Platzman started receiving calls from people with sewing machines volunteering to help with mask making that Sew the Masks was born.

“That’s when the light went on,” he said.

The current roster of 100 sewers learned about the program through word-of-mouth before AIS had even promoted the program. The ultimate objective is to enlist 1,000 sewers.

“Sometimes big challenges call for simple solutions and we can all play our part,” Platzman said.