Business 13 April 2020
Amanda Curtis shifted the focus of her on-demand manufacturing platform, N.A.bld, from fashion to face masks when federal health officials advised healthcare workers to bring scarves and bandanas to work when caring for COVID-19 patients.
Curtis's husband, a doctor of internal medicine, works on the front lines in a busy Boston hospital system — a system not unlike the many healthcare facilities across the U.S. They are currently facing dangerously low supplies of N95 face masks, personal protective equipment (PPE), and the other essential safety gear needed to protect medical personnel as they work alongside patients impacted by the coronavirus.
"Be prepared to bring a bandana? That was the point where I decided, 'There's a better solution. We can do better than that,'" says Curtis, who in 2019 launched New York-based N.A.bld (pronounced "enabled") with co-founder Gemma Sole. The two created N.A.bld as a stand-alone manufacturing production platform for Nineteenth Amendment, a direct-to-consumer retailing and manufacturing SaaS platform they launched in 2013.
On-demand Platform Connects With U.S. Manufacturers To Help In Crisis
With the clock ticking on this mounting challenge, "Buy a Mask, Give a Mask" went live on March 20. The pivot took shape quickly, kicking into gear two days after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended bandanas as a last-gasp solution for the healthcare community in combating the nation's dwindling supply of medical-grade masks.
N.A.bld's mask initiative relies on its partner network of small-batch manufacturers to produce thousands of washable cotton face masks that healthcare professionals can wear over their N95 respirators and medical equipment to preserve the longevity of the masks.
Nineteenth Amendment's enterprise SaaS platform regularly fills on-demand fashion orders for such behemoth brands as Macy's, Disney and Microsoft, and has powered the shoppable content for Bravo's Project Runway for its last two seasons.
One foreseeable roadblock was accessing fabric for the reusable masks. The company's main suppliers are in New York, California, and New Jersey—three of the dozens of states that instituted short-term closures for "non-essential" businesses in order to curb the pandemic.
"It was an issue because the manufacturers could not operate without fabric, and we knew we needed to get fabric to them as soon as possible," Curtis says. With orders for thousands of masks coming in at a rapid fire rate, the rush was on.
Enter N.A.bld's partner, online distributor Fabric.com. This crucial piece of the supply chain, and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) subsidiary, is headquartered in Georgia, a state that has not yet imposed "non-essential" restrictions on businesses.
Fabric face masks for frontline COVID-19 responders become all the rage
Requests for the cotton masks from nursing homes, hospitals, fire stations and urgent care centers soared past 10,000 in the first two days. Within the first two hours of going live, Beth Israel Deaconess Lahey at Boston's Harvard Medical School ordered 8,000. A fire station in Arizona sent a video showing all the people who would be protected by the masks. A healthcare facility in Seattle, down to its last three masks, needed help to fill that gap immediately.
Fabric.com donated the cotton materials. The supplier is shipping direct to participating production facilities from its warehouse in Georgia. Designers and other creatives are working 24-7 to fill the orders.
Because N.A.bld's's design platform is SaaS-based, it provides a solution that is able to mobilize a remote community of sewers and manufacturers, while also keeping them isolated and safe. Individual sewers and hobbyists, too, can access a full tech pack for a fabric face mask, step-by-step instructions, a printable pattern and free support resources to make the masks in the safety of their homes.
"It's really beautiful to see the entire fashion industry come together on this," says Curtis. In the broader application, a solution that was created to change the landscape of the fashion industry is the same solution powering a movement to address need during a global pandemic.
Powering A Vision At The Intersection Of Tech And Fashion
Curtis and Sole met at the first class of Startup Institute at Harvard i-lab's in 2012. Their backgrounds — Curtis's as a head designer at a fashion company and Sole's in venture capital and startups — unlocked an opportunity to develop one of the most sustainable models for an industry known for creating excessive pollution and waste.
Working closely with US based manufacturers, designers, and established retailers, the women-led company developed data-driven, real-time technology that enables retailers and brands to launch unique garments intelligently and without waste.
Shortly after, N.A.bld was created as a stand-alone, design-to-delivery production platform to aid Nineteenth Amendment's existing marketplace. Using vetted U.S. manufacturers to support the production platform, manufacturing time is cut from six months to six weeks, eliminating the need for brands to carry inventory that might not be sold. The scalable, revenue-generating platform currently services over 1,000 brands in 30 countries.
Studies Show Women Perform Better In Crisis
In January 2019, Nineteenth Amendment participated in a program designed to connect women founders with impact investors. Curtis and Sole received a $100,000 investment through Chloe Capital, the founders' first women investors. Chloe Capital is a seed-stage venture capital firm that invests in women-led innovation companies. The firm's mission is to advance solutions to the diversity gap in entrepreneurship and venture capital.
Securing seed funding is recurrently a problem for female founders. Only 8% of partners at top venture capital firms are female, and according to Pitchbook, less than 3% of women-led companies receive VC funding. This alarming statistic comes despite studies that show women-led companies perform better and lead better in crisis, and that women CEOs in the Fortune 1000 drove three times the returns as S&P 500 enterprises run predominantly by men. A separate survey by Credit Suisse found that companies with more female executives in decision-making positions generate stronger market returns and better profits.
The prospects, however, are promising. Two recent reports by Morgan Stanley point to a future where women are positioned to drive the economic conversation — as a workforce and as consumers powering discretionary spending and GDP.
A Grassroots Effort That Everyone Can Support
Meanwhile, two fierce women innovators at the helm of Nineteenth Amendment and N.A.bld have fashioned a solution to produce cotton face masks for the frontline healthcare community.
To help fund production costs, the "Buy a Mask, Give a Mask" campaign was launched on NineteenthAmendment.com. Manufacturers can also sign on to produce the masks if their jurisdictions permit them to do so. People can purchase a face mask for themselves while donating face masks to centers of need in quantities of 5 to 1,000. They can also get a free fabric face mask template, complete with digital pattern, suggested materials and sourcing to make masks at home. All proceeds from the 100% not-for-profit initiative go toward the creation and distribution of masks. Donors can monitor their impact on nabld.com/make-a-face-mask, where progress is tracked daily in the "Updates" section.
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Sometimes it takes falling to rock bottom in order to be built back up again. I learned this many years ago when the life I'd carefully built for myself and my family suddenly changed. But in those times, you learn to lean on those who love you – a friend, family member or someone who can relate to what you've been through. I was lucky enough to have two incredible women help me through one of my lowest moments. They taught me to love myself and inspired me to pass on their lessons each da
If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today.
In 2010, I was a wife, a mother of three, and had filtered in and out of jobs depending on what my family needed from me. At different points in my career, I've worked in the corporate world, been a stay-at-home mom, and even started my own daycare center. Fitness has always been a part of my life, but at that point being a mom was my main priority. Then, life threw a curveball. My husband and I separated, leading to a very difficult divorce.
These were difficult times. I lost myself in the uncertainty of my future and the stress that comes with a divorce and found myself battling anorexia. Over a matter of months, I lost 40 lbs. and felt surrounded by darkness. I was no longer participating in my health and all efforts to stay active came to a halt. I didn't want to leave my home, I didn't' want to talk to people, and I really did not want to see men. Seeing my struggles, first my sister and then a friend, approached me and invited me to visit the gym.
After months of avoiding it, my sister started taking me to the gym right before closing when it wasn't too busy. We started slow, on the elliptical or the treadmill. This routine got me out of the house and slowly we worked to regain my strength and my self-esteem. When my sister moved away, my good friend and personal trainer started working out with me one-on-one early in the morning, taking time out of her busy schedule to keep me on track toward living a healthy life once again. Even when I didn't want to leave the house, she would encourage me to push myself and I knew I didn't want to let her down. She helped me every step of the way. My sister and my friend brought fitness back into my everyday routine. They saved my life.
I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again. My friend has since moved away, but, these two women made me feel loved, confident and strong with their empowerment and commitment to me. They made such an incredible impact on me; I knew I needed to pay it forward. I wanted to have the same impact on women in my community. I started by doing little things, like running with a woman who just had a baby to keep her inspired and let her know she's not alone. I made sure not to skip my regular runs, just in case there was a woman watching who needed the inspiration to keep going. These small steps of paying it forward helped me find purpose and belonging. This gave me a new mentality that put me on a path to the opportunity of a lifetime – opening a women's only kickboxing gym, 30 Minute Hit.
About four years ago, I was officially an empty nester. It was time to get myself out of the house too and find what I was truly passionate about, which is easier said than done. Sitting behind a desk, in a cubicle, simply didn't cut it. It was hard to go from an active and chaotic schedule to a very slow paced, uneventful work week. I felt sluggish. Even when I moved to another company where I got to plan events and travel, it was enjoyable, but not fulfilling. I wanted to be a source of comfort to those struggling, as my sister and dear friend had been to me. I wanted to impact others in a way that couldn't be done from behind a desk.
I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again.
When I heard about 30 Minute Hit, I was nervous to take the leap. But the more I learned about the concept, the more I knew it was the perfect fit for me. Opening my own gym where women can come to let go of their struggles, rely on one another and meet new people is the best way for me to pass on the lessons I learned during my darkest times.
Kickboxing is empowering in itself. Add to it a high energy, female-only environment, and you have yourself a powerhouse! The 30 Minute Hit concept is franchised all over North America, acting as a source of release for women who are just trying to get through their day. I see women of all ages come into my gym, kick the heck out of a punching bag and leave with a smile on their face, often times alongside a new friend. 30 Minute Hit offers a convenient schedule for all women, from busy moms to working women, to students and senior citizens. A schedule-free model allows members to come in whenever they have a free half hour to dedicate to themselves. Offering certified training in kickboxing and a safe environment to let go, 30 Minute Hit is the place for women empowerment and personal growth.
Through my journey, I have learned that everyone is going through something – everyone is on their own path. My motivating factor is knowing that I can touch people's lives everyday just by creating the space for encouragement and community. It's so easy to show people you care. That's the type of environment my team, clients and myself have worked hard to create at our 30 Minute Hit location.
Fitness saved my life. If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today. The perfect example of women empowering women – the foundation to invincibility.
This article was originally published September 12, 2019.