Innovative Thinking Results in Thousands of Masks for Frontline Workers

When Tom Shipley ‘87 learned about the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), as CEO of Dennis Uniform, he immediately began searching for a way to leverage his equipment and personnel to help frontline workers.

He landed on the idea of temporarily switching production from school uniforms to face masks and was delighted to find every employee—from the executive team and board members to union and non-union staff—were immediately supportive of the idea. In an interview with Catholic News Service (CNS) Tom said, “knowing we are doing something no one else in our industry is doing permeates throughout every person involved with this program.”

With time being of the essence, his team quickly connected with local doctors and nurses (as well as his wife Megan 87 who is a nurse midwife) in designing and developing a line of emergency face masks. Their goal was to create the best barrier possible from the materials the company had on-hand noting that medical grade fabrics were not accessible.

The result? Eye-catching masks, all with some sort of plaid design typically used for jumpers and skirts. To date, Dennis Uniform has donated 30,000 masks to health care workers and first line responders.

Doing their part for the greater good, is not something new to Dennis Uniform, which has been in Tom’s family for 100 years. During World War II, the company produced nurses uniforms, labcoats, Red Cross uniforms, as well as towels and linens for warships docking in the port of Portland.

Tom’s continuing to get more requests for masks nationwide including from schools considering adding it to their uniforms programs . At the moment, they aren’t for sale. “We felt strongly that this was not a time for anyone to be opportunist or profit from someone else’s grief or tragedy.”

Like many other companies, Tom’s trying to figure out the balance for what lies ahead. He’s unsure of how the pandemic will impact the 2,500 schools that place orders each year with them. With so much unknown, he says he focused on what he can, which is to be “present in this moment and try to do things that are right and will have immediate impact.”

Content in this article, including all quotes, originally appeared in the article Catholic school uniform company now making, donating face masks (Catholic News Service, April 20, 2020).