Apron-maker Shifts to PPE Amid COVID Crisis

Apron-maker Shifts to PPE Amid COVID Crisis

Under normal circumstances, I spend most of my time hand-making leather work aprons and a variety of other leather goods under the Calavera Toolworks brand, which I founded some five years ago. But early last spring, the COVID-19 pandemic shook me from the comfortable life I had established for my young family here in Charleston, South Carolina. While I’m not one to worry much over myself, I certainly struggled with the uncertainty and potential health consequences ahead for those I love most, including my wife, four children and aging parents. At the same time, there was a national shortage of protective masks to meet the challenges at hand. The need for personal responsibility and action rapidly became all too clear to me.

Protective mask made by Calavera Tool Works

I’ve never been much of a bystander, so I quickly set to work on prototypes for personal protective equipment (PPE) that I hoped to produce in sufficient quantities to at least cover the needs of my closest friends and family. And since “crazy” seems to know my exact location at all times, it took less than 48 hours for a major national news network to find me and place an order for 8,500 face masks for the purpose of protecting their reporters and staff who would be so critical in covering news of the crisis.

Assembling a leather woodworking apron
Michael Williams, founder of Calavera Tool Works, assembling a custom leather work apron — the company’s primary product line.

To make this essential, yet (then) extremely scarce piece of gear a reality, we ramped up from a single parttime employee to a team of 10 to seamstresses working from home. Calavera purchased many thousands of the most expensive vacuum bags known to our woodworking and construction industries and scrounged for every inch of elastic we could get our hands on. By the time of this writing, we have shipped well over 20,000 high quality, well-fitting masks, including a couple thousand donated outright to veterans hospitals, food banks and many other good causes around the community. (And yes, I made sure Mom and Dad had plenty from the start to stay safe.)

Assembling protective masks from vacuum bags
Last spring, Calavera began to manufacture protective face masks, made of vacuum bags and elastic, to help offset PPE shortages.

We must take responsibility for one another, regardless of politics, beliefs or any of the other factors that make individuals out of each of us. I have been extremely grateful for the opportunity to put whatever skills I have to use for the greater good, in whatever small manner that may be. And well, if I’m being honest, I do enjoy a good challenge and a little bit of chaos now and then. Stay safe, good people, in these challenging times.

Michael Williams is the founder of Calavera Tool Works

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