Updated: Jun 21, 2020
(Top left: Atticus Wolf of Moxy and Alex Chan. Top right: Bryan Walker inspecting the one ton roll of Coca cola PETG. Bottom left: Shelly Wong and Alex Chan trying the new face shield design Bottom right: The laser cutter at Moxy cutting face shields)
by Sheryl Gorchow Stuart
When Bryan Walker, co-owner and founder of Berkeley clothing company Bryn Walker, received a donation of a 1 ton roll of 22 mil PETG 3 plastic from CocaCola, he turned to his friend, Shelly Wong, an Alameda entrepreneur and founder of It Takes A Village Bay Area, a grassroots community effort of 225 volunteers who have been making fabric masks and face shields for Bay Area hospitals since March.
Because PETG 3 plastic is especially thin and a 1 ton roll is beyond home-based efforts, the two entrepreneurs needed to find a specific laser cutter to do the work. A flurry of phone calls led them to Oakland fabricator, Atticus Wolf, and his fabrication industrial art workshop, m0xy. This series of connections is one example of how many Bay Area entrepreneurs have turned their energies towards social needs while “business as usual” has slowed down.
“Our current run is 6,000 shields, which including the 5,500 face shields we have made and donated since March, would put us at 11,500,” Wong said.
The effort began in mid-March, days ahead of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Stay at Home order. Wong was watching a CNN story about a couple using 3D printers to make face shields in New York. She turned to her husband, business partner and former Head-Royce high school robotics coach, Alex Chan, wondering if they could do the same. “Alex said the polycarbonate was the same material we used for our robot parts that you could buy at Tap Plastics.” She next called her friend, Tim Poisez, who had worked in an industrial design school in San Francisco. He had just designed a face shield that didn't use 3D printing at Inside Weather. “The best part is that the shield could be made with parts pretty readily available, you could make it inexpensively and at home,” Wong added.
“We found sheets of poly carb and 15 sheets of PETG. Alex and I then spoke to our neighbor, Yuri Reiter of Metalmorphic. He put us in contact with Neal's CNC , who offered to cut the material for just donations.” Chan then refined the design and assembly process so that volunteers could assemble face shields from kits.
Wong also reached out promptly to Walker, who pitched in his sourcing expertise, donating elastic, and packaging supplies for an effort that would grow to span four counties. That start resulted in 750 face shields, assembled by volunteers and donated to hospitals. In parallel Walker donated fabric, elastic, wire and thread for face masks, and the group expanded into a four county village of sewists, cutters, washers, and drivers. Co-founders Bryan Walker and Michelle Walker have been crucial in supporting It Takes A Village-Bay Area, helping the effort scale into an operation that has made and donated more than 18,600 cloth masks to hospitals as well as 6,400 KN95 masks.
Walker was moved by the notion that in WWII, Berkeley and the East Bay had converted itself into a manufacturing hub for the war effort. The parallels of the urgency to make supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic struck him. "Bryn Walker has been designing clothes in the Bay Area for 28 years for women who shape and help make our community more vibrant. It is a natural transition for us to harness and repurpose our resources, facilities and production team to produce the much needed protection for the healthcare professionals in our community battling COVID-19," Walker said.
Wong noted, “When we first started, fabric face masks and face shields were our two-pronged approach to provide the best PPE with our resources. We started in separate avenues. Bryan knew more about fabric and sewing, Alex and I knew more about the face shields. But in our several month's journey, that has blended significantly.”
With this 1 ton roll of plastic, the entrepreneurs are now ramping up their face shield efforts, using a new 100% plastic design, that was prototyped by the fabricators at mOxy and collaboratively revised by Chan. The workshop is also pitching in the cutting. “Our partners are cutting for reduced rates, although we are trying to raise funds through a GoFundMe to help cover their costs, along with costs from our face mask effort.” Wong explained.
Wong reflected that even while many small fabricator shops have refocused to make face shields, and although people think California is flattening the curve, the hospitals remain in desperate need of these supplies. “They use hundreds a day, but there are only so many being made by makers such as ourselves. Hospitals can't estimate a quantity because their needs are so high. And this will be true for a while. We may get out of shelter-in-place, but the hospitals will likely have the same level of patients as now.”