FREEPORT, Maine — L.L. Bean is using its resources and production capabilities to assist in the fight against coronavirus.
At the same production facility where you'd typically find workers crafting the iconic "bean boot," you'll now find workers sewing 'sneeze masks' for first responders and others on the front lines in the fight against coronavirus.
"We got a call from Maine Health and they said, we need help with PPE for our healthcare providers," says L.L. Bean Chief Operations and People Officer Marie McCarthy.
PPE stands for 'personal protective equipment,' which includes masks, shields, hospital gowns and booties.
McCarthy says before Maine Health even sought the company's help, an L.L. Bean employee had already presented the idea of making protective masks and developed a model for one.
Starting Monday, March 30, mask production was up and running.
L.L. Bean is currently making 'sneeze masks,' but is developing prototypes for different kinds of masks, including 'surgical masks.' One such prototype is currently being tested at MIT.
L.L. Bean is also trying to develop protective gowns and booties.
"When we're up to full production, we think we can make 5,000 masks a shift, and as we've learned about the need for PPE and masks, we decided to ramp up and go to two shifts a day, and we can go seven days a week if we need," says McCarthy.
In other words, L.L. Bean may soon have the capacity to produce up to 70,000 masks a week to protect Mainers.
The current sneeze masks are made from something the company already had on hand: dog bed liner.
"The dog bed liner we used because it's kind of soft and has some airflow components to it," says McCarthy.
L.L. Bean isn't the only Maine business working to create PPE.
'Thermoformed Plastics of New England' in Biddeford has donated plastic to make thousands of protective shields.
It's working in partnership with a New Hampshire candle company called Alene Candles.
"They agreed to donate enough plastic to make the shield, which is one of the more difficult things to source," says Alene Candle President and CEO Rod Harl.
Alene Candles is manufacturing the shields at its facility in Milford, New Hampshire.
"The people who came in this week we're just thrilled to play a part and have a purpose that's really bigger than any of us," says Harl.
The shields made by Alene Candles will be given to first responders in New Hampshire and in Maine.
For both Alene candles and L.L.Bean, it was important the product stay close to home.
"Giving back to the local area is always in the first interest," says Harl.
"Our emphasis has always been about Maine," says McCarthy.