She works in fashion. He works in medicine. The couple’s collective skills married together helped create a supply chain to get Ochsner employees the protective gear they need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
LSU alumni, and husband and wife, Bonnie and Stephen Fletcher own a women’s apparel boutique, Shake Your Bon Bon, in New Orleans, which Bonnie, who has a degree in apparel design from the College of Agriculture, oversees while Stephen works in the Neuroscience Medical 3D Lab at Ochsner Health New Orleans.
Early in the coronavirus outbreak in New Orleans, Stephen Fletcher, who has a degree in biochemistry, saw the growing demand for personal protective equipment. He and Bonnie worked to gather a team of companies from their respective backgrounds, pairing makers with evolving clinical needs.
“I want to emphasize how proximity to innovation and the ability to think creatively is what allowed us to act decisively and rapidly in our COVID-19 response,” Stephen said.
Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were that hospital workers at least wear a scarf if face masks weren’t available, but he knew they could do better.
To adequately protect hospital employees, Ochsner needed face shields. After designing and prototyping with Scale Workspace, both parties realized they would need another manufacturer to meet their immediate needs. The Fletchers reached out to GoodWood NOLA, a design and fabrication company that had previously helped build racks and shelving for the Fletchers’ Magazine Street store. GoodWood NOLA was able to shift their manufacturing to the shields.
Michael Dalle Molle, owner of GoodWood NOLA, said that within three days his company had produced 50 face shields that Ochsner doctors and clinicians were testing. The face shields design was tweaked and improved as manufacturing continued. A collaborative effort between Scale Workspace and Goodwood NOLA helped fill the demand for shields.
Soft goods such as gowns and face masks then became the priority.
“I drew on my experience helping my wife run her apparel design and retail company and asked our supply chain if they would be open to having local fabricators and seamstresses manufacture the goods we could not attain through our traditional sources due to COVID-19,” Stephen said.
Bonnie said she spent long days returning to her design roots, testing patterns, sewing and sourcing fabrics. The couple called in Cecile Hardy Tanguis, owner of NOLA Couture, an apparel company with manufacturing capabilities.
Hardy Tanguis and her team ordered a massive amount of material and started cutting out masks and gowns. They also activated an army of home sewers who would come to the factory, pick up the material and sew the gowns and masks at home.
The Fletchers said with support from innovationOchsner and Ochsner Academics, they were able to quickly validate designs and materials through the validation chain of infectious disease, supply chain and frontline providers to scale production quickly to help fill the need with high-quality apparel and shields.
Within the first month, 75,000 face shields were manufactured in New Orleans with American parts.
“This is such a cool example of a community effort to do something so very important,” Dalle Molle said.
He also said this work has allowed his business to stay open during the stay-at-home orders, and it even created additional jobs to fill Ochsner’s order.
Hardy Tanguis said the same. Even though her stores were temporarily closed, her employees were all still working, and she hired additional people to sew the gowns and masks.
“Everyone on my staff wanted to fight the good fight and be a part of this,” Hardy Tanguis said. “We were working 18-hour days for several weeks because the need was so dire.”
Bonnie said she never thought her world of fashion and Stephen’s world of medicine would ever connect like this.
“We are used to working together for our business, being the ‘dream team,’ as I like to call us. But it’s a whole different kind of dream, and to see that our teamwork has truly made a difference,” she said.
Tobie Blanchard is director of LSU AgCenter Communications.
(This article appears in the summer 2020 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Married couple Bonnie and Stephen Fletcher in front of their store, Shake Your Bon Bon, show off samples of the personal protection equipment they and a team of businesses in the New Orleans area helped create for Ochsner New Orleans. Photo provided by Stephen Fletcher
Christina Larson, left, and Loraine McNeese, employees of NOLA Couture, make personal protective equipment for health care workers at NOLA Couture’s manufacturing facility NOLA Sewn. Photo provided by Cecile Hardy Tanguis
This is a note one of NOLA Couture’s home sewers left in a handmade protective gown. Photo provided by Cecile Hardy Tanguis