When COVID-19 hit and many businesses were ordered to temporarily shut their doors, Joe Doohan huddled with his employees trying to find a way they could help out.
Doohan owns K-L Manufacturing, an apparel manufacturing company that does printing and gluing on high-end active wear for customers spanning from Olympic teams to the military and even Gonzaga.
“We don’t draw a lot of attention to ourselves, and that’s how it should be,” Doohan said. “It’s the brands we work for that get all the attention.”
K-L Manufacturing has been around since the 1930s and is the kind of businesses where you’ve probably seen or owned something made there, you just didn’t know it.
But COVID-19 threatened to stop the sewing machines cold until the phone began ringing with a different type of orders.
“We had some of our regular customers asking if we could make personal protection masks,” Doohan said. “And I had a lot of employees who really wanted to help out instead of sitting on the sidelines through this crisis.”
Doohan and his staff moved equipment around on the production floor (to keep employees a safe six feet apart) and picked up “Spokanitizer” hand sanitizer from Dry Fly Distilling. Within a week or so, the first batch of masks was rolling off the sewing machines.
“Switching from one fabric to another wasn’t too hard,” Doohan said.
Then supply chain dynamics proved tricky when elastic band was in sudden short supply - yet the requests kept coming in. “We have had requests from anywhere between 300 to over one million masks a piece.”
Doohan said about 75 of his regular 130 employees continue to come in to work.
“We haven't been able to get everybody back to work yet, but we are working hard to do so,” Doohan said. “They all want to be here.”
He hopes K-L Manufacturing can keep trucking along with a mix of its regular orders and mask making.
“Most of the Olympic product we make was already done before the games were canceled,” Doohan said about the impact event cancelations had on his business. “But we do a lot with college sports - softball, track and field and football - and it’s hard to say what the future brings in that area.”
The Spokane-made masks are not necessarily for sale locally, Doohan said, adding that K-L Manufacturing isn’t a retail outlet.
For now he’s happy to keep the wheels turning and his people employed.
“We work with what we can control and hope for the best,” Doohan said.