Gaithersburg Upholstery Company Now Making Face Masks and Gowns

For the past 75 years, Rankin Upholstery in Gaithersburg has been creating upholstery for boats, cars and airplanes.

But due to the pandemic, “We have completely stopped that,” said owner Daniel Simon.

About two months ago, the company in Montgomery Air Park reinvented itself and now is making masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment to sell to hospitals and other medical employees, Montgomery County staff and first responders.

To make the changeover, the company retooled some of its machines and purchased other equipment. Its workforce of eight or nine employees jumped to the current 22, Simon said. Many of the new hires recently had been furloughed from the upholstery industry or are fashion designers.

For its efforts, Rankin is the only Montgomery County company to receive a grant from the Maryland COVID-19 Emergency Relief Manufacturing Fund, which is administered by the state Department of Commerce.

Simon was excited to find out they received the state grant, noting, “It was a pretty strenuous interview process. They made sure we knew what we were doing.”

“We are grateful,” Simon said, adding he was pleased to be able to protect people on the front line as well as hire additional workers.

Twenty Maryland companies received a total of $1.6 million to produce the needed items.

Simon wouldn’t say how much his company received, but the individual grants were for a maximum of $100,000.

“Ramping up our supply of PPE is a critical building block in our state’s recovery plan, and we are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to secure these resources for our front line workers,” Gov. Larry Hogan said.

“I want to thank and commend the local businesses who have shifted their operations and increased production to help us save lives and flatten the curve.”

Since some of Rankin’s materials are made for the outdoors and are weather resistant, Simon thought it would be possible to produce the protective equipment that was needed. He spoke with people at Johns Hopkins Hospital to learn what was needed to make a mask good enough for medical professionals.

After working it all out, employees conducted tests and made sure the items were still effective after washing.

The masks are medical grade and are surgical style with ties rather than elastic. They can be machine washed up to eight times and reusable for up to 30 days.

The new work requires a lot of sewing, pleating and binding, he said, adding that his company only is dealing with large orders and does not fill requests for individual masks.

One employee featured on a video the company made, noted, “God blesses those who bless others. I think we all feel blessed here.”

Photos courtesy Rankin Upholstery.

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