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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I am a proud Black business owner carrying a line of lip colors for the woman who wants to shine. At Vatarie Cosmetics you can find cruelty-free and vegan lip care products, including clear lip gloss and liquid matte lipsticks. The line is still under development, so there are more products in the making that you'll hear more about soon!
My products are high-quality and it is my dream to take my brand into high-end storefronts across the nation and even across the globe.
I have worked my way into my entrepreneurial career as I did not come from money. The goal of my cosmetic line is to bring excitement to everyone who tries the line. My products are high-quality and it is my dream to take my brand into high-end storefronts across the nation and even across the globe. I believe that with added makeup and a good set of threads, anybody can confidently face the world. I am a proud and firm supporter of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and a proud member and supporter of the LGBTQIA community.
There have been plenty of hardships that I have had to face throughout my entire life, the most recent being the recent death of my father who passed far too soon. I have never allowed these hardships to deter me, and won't start now. I will continue to progress and work hard to build my business, knowing that this is what my father would have wanted.
About the Vatarie Line: What It's All About
Upon launching the line, I had the mission of inspiring every human to find their inner beauty and to have fun along the way. With this in mind, my products are designed for people of all genders, races, religions, and creeds. The Vatarie line will have more to offer customers very soon as I am continually working on developing products and expanding the line. In addition to the lip colors currently offered, the line will soon include highlighters, eyeshadows, and new lip gloss additions.
I believe that no one needs makeup to validate themselves, and we are all beautiful on our own. I do believe, though, that makeup can make life a lot more fun. Now more than ever we are living in a world where there is so much sadness and darkness. Sometimes all we need to change our moods and get away from that darkness is something to help us feel better and more vibrant — this is where a pop of makeup and a well put together outfit can really make an impact.
Now more than ever we are living in a world where there is so much sadness and darkness.
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I bring my sense of humor and quirky personality into my products and you can see this in the names of each item. Take the lip color "Blood Money," which signifies all the money, tears, sweat, and yes, blood that was put into the brand. Let me tell you, it was hard work, and it still is hard work, but at the end of the day, it fulfills me to know the type of quality I am providing. It gives me great pride to create a line of legendary products that will positively affect someone and bring them to a place of self-love and acceptance.
About the Past that Gives My Business Meaning
I have struggled over the years with mental abuse that has left me feeling as if "I wasn't enough." Added to that, being a Black woman in an industry that is predominantly dominated by other races, I had to work harder to get to where I am today.
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Being a Black woman in an industry that is predominantly dominated by other races, I had to work harder to get to where I am today.
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As I grieve over my father's recent passing, I become stronger. It is this added personal strength that will push me forward in everything I do and will be reflected in my work ethic and in the development of new products for my Vatarie line of cosmetics.