Bellevue-based Eddie Bauer shifts production to make masks for local hospitals

Bellevue-based Eddie Bauer has temporarily closed its stores during the coronavirus pandemic but that hasn’t stopped the company from shifting production to make thousands of critically needed masks that will be donated to local hospitals.

Eddie Bauer President Damien Huang said 20,000 masks, including 5,000 N95s, will be sent to the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services to be distributed to hospitals -- an unforeseen partial production shift for the apparel company that Huang said is a sign of the times.

“My world outlook, like everybody else’s, has changed dramatically in the span of 21 days,” said Huang, in a FaceTime interview with KIRO 7.

Huang said the company was inspired to reach out to its factory base after seeing reports about shortages in personal protective equipment, like masks, that has forced some hospitals to ration supplies.

“Some of our technical vendors, the vendors that normally make high-end outerwear or performance apparel -- they were able to adapt to create and manufacture some of the protective medical equipment,” said Huang. “They had adapted to the situation they faced in the far east, in China.”

Some vendors also donated masks, according to Huang, who said the first shipment of 5,000 N95 masks is expected to arrive in Washington next week for donation. Another shipment of 15,000 surgical masks is expected to arrive next month, Huang said.

“We’re having a real struggle getting through this, like many retailers and many small businesses,” said Huang. “But I think there’s comfort in taking action.”

There’s still a critical need for N95 masks, according to the Washington State Hospital Association, that said hospitals in urban areas are doing slightly better in terms of supplies this week compared to last week.

“It’s still not great, especially in rural areas,” said Beth Zborowski with the Washington State Hospital Association. “Rural areas are much closer to that cliff. This remains a concern as we see the number of cases continue to increase.”

UW Medicine, which includes Harborview Medical Center, said it currently has a shrinking but “adequate” supply of personal protective equipment. The hospital system welcomes donations but said homemade masks will not be accepted.

“We want to make sure that the equipment that is coming into the hospital meets the safety standards to actually protect the frontline workers,” said Zborowski.

Swedish said it has enacted measures to conserve supplies during the shortage and is also accepting donations. Email CovidDonations@Swedish.org to find out how to make in-kind donations of medical supplies and equipment.