Fashion-industry leader retools to make vital apparel. Photographer shifts to contact-less model to preserve childhood memories. Respected nonprofit ramps up efforts to feed those in need. Long-running restaurant tweaks business model to survive challenging times.
In light of the current pandemic, businesses have had to develop alternatives to their core services and products in order to survive. Here are just a few Arizona businesses that, through creativity and perseverance, have successfully pivoted during the pandemic.
The Fashion and Business Resource Innovation Center (FABRIC) typically manufactures apparel and helps emerging fashion brands with design development. But since the pandemic hit, they've shifted their focus from cutting-edge fashion to much-needed personal protective equipment
A fashion industry incubator located in Tempe, FABRIC is composed of three entities: LabelHorde, which provides education, design development and business support services; Arizona Fashion Source, owned by FABRIC co-founder Sherri Barry, which offers manufacturing and use of the FABRIC building for events; and the Arizona Apparel Foundation, a nonprofit that provides free and discounted services to the fashion community.
“By mid-March, multiple healthcare facilities had contacted us looking for isolation gowns,” says Angela Johnson, FABRIC co-founder and owner of LabelHorde. As part of a COVID-19 personal protective equipment mitigation task force organized by the Arizona Commerce Authority, FABRIC began producing FDA-approved reusable isolation gowns.
Prior to March, FABRIC manufactured small quantities of clothing for startup brands. “Now we’ve added about 40 sewing machines to our space and are producing hundreds of thousands of isolation gowns,” Johnson says. “We already had the industry professionals needed to design apparel. The challenge has been to find enough experienced, skilled sewing technicians to sit at those 40 additional sewing machines.”
Johnson says FABRIC will continue making these gowns post-pandemic shutdown. “The hospitals love [them]. They really appreciate the sustainability factor because the gowns are reusable. Doctors from the healthcare facilities were also part of the design process. They got to design their ultimate gown and each facility has its own unique preferences.”
"It took a while to ramp up and totally pivot our model, we’re now making close to 1,000 gowns a day. Our goal is to make 2,000 a day.”
– Angela Johnson, Co-Founder, FABRIC
Kay Eskridge, owner of Images by Kay and Co. Photography, was coping with an empty portrait studio—and decreased revenue—during the shutdown. To keep herself busy, she made positivity bracelets, painted “happiness rocks,” sewed protection masks, and created signs with uplifting messages for people passing by her home.
“These activities served two purposes,” she says. “Helping others and giving me a way to cope with the pandemic.”
But when it came to her business, Eskridge took her photography skills and applied them to this whole new world of social distancing by creating a way for parents to capture a treasured part of their children’s lives. The Lovables Collection offers no-touch portrait sessions in which a parent can set an appointment and drive up with their child’s “lovie” (toy, teddy bear, doll, stuffed animal, etc.) that Eskridge borrows for a quick portrait while the parent waits in the car. Then, through email, Eskridge and the parent design a wall portrait of the child’s friend for the child’s room. The finished product is delivered to the family.
The Lovables Collection will become a permanent addition to her studio product line. “It’s been amazing how clients say it’s helped quell their kiddos’ fears. Parents have crafted stories about how the child’s toy came back safely because Mommy and Daddy took precautions and were ‘safe’ when they took the toy to see Kay,” Eskridge says.
Every day, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Arizona (SVdP) serves more than 4,000 meals across its five charity dining rooms in the Valley. Usually, those meals are prepared by staff and volunteers in SVdP’s central kitchen from food donations and fresh produce harvested from the organization’s three urban farms, explains Shannon Clancy, St. Vincent de Paul’s associate executive director.
“As we all began reacting to and navigating the crisis,” she says, “we recognized that we needed to find an alternative way to serve pre-packaged, to-go meals at scale to protect the health and safety of our guests, volunteers and staff.”
To accomplish this, SVdP began purchasing food from local restaurants, ensuring the nonprofit could continue to serve meals without disruption, and the restaurant could keep their employees working and on the payroll.
One of those eateries is Serrano’s Mexican Restaurant. “[We are] tremendously blessed by our restaurants’ success,” says CEO Ric Serrano. “We’re grateful to St. Vincent de Paul for this innovative opportunity that was a win for us and a win for the community members they serve.”
The lesson to be learned here, Clancy says, “is the great power we have to help the most vulnerable people in our community when we come together, pool our strengths, and find creative solutions to the need at hand.”
"There are plenty of folks who still want to avoid the grocery stores and prefer picking up their grocery orders curbside from us, along with a family-style meal for the night.”
– Colleen Riske, Co-Owner, Los Sombreros
During the shutdown, Los Sombreros—a Mexican restaurant with locations in Scottsdale and Phoenix—was faced with devising alternatives to dine-in service. While figuring out the best way to buy pantry and refrigerator staples for the restaurant, owners Kurt and Colleen Riske decided to create an online grocery mini mart. Called the Mercado, it allowed customers to purchase such food staples as produce, dairy, eggs, pantry items, prepared foods, beer, wine, cocktails and even paper and plastic goods, all of which could be picked up curbside.
The restaurant also started driving a “margarita van” through neighborhoods, offering margaritas, chips and salsa, and pints of homemade ice cream. In addition, chicken and vegan bowls were available at a drive-through option set up to operate strictly during the shutdown. The restaurant donated and served 130 of the bowls to out-of-work food industry workers in a single afternoon at its Phoenix location.
“Our customers have expressed so much gratitude for the Mercado,” Colleen says. “There are plenty of folks who still want to avoid the grocery stores in-person and prefer picking up their grocery orders curbside from us, along with a family-style meal for the night.”
Riske says before the shutdown, 95 percent of their business was dine-in. Through these alternatives, the restaurant replaced about 30 percent of its revenue.
Story: Debra Gelbart