As the new coronavirus began spreading a few weeks ago, Darren LaPorte realized he had a way that he could help.
LaPorte, who owns North Charleston boat cover and shade manufacturer LaPorte’s Products Inc., had the tools, equipment and material necessary to make nonmedical face masks.
“We had a fabric … that will be used for our boat shades,” he said. “And it’s a very stretchy fabric, it’s kind of got like a spandex texture to it. … And it has antimicrobic in it and it is UV ray-resistant and things like that for the outdoors, even. But it wound up being a neat product that we felt would be comfortable around your face.”
After retooling the production line and getting filters for the masks from a company in Texas, LaPorte put together a website to showcase the new product and the company was off to the races.
“We’re fortunate to have all those resources in our facility,” he said.
LaPorte said the company has the capacity to make between 500 and 700 masks per week and has enough material for a total of 30,000 masks.
He had initially anticipated making 1,000 masks per week, but LaPorte had to change employees’ shifts to keep to fewer than 10 people in one place at a time. He also allowed some employees to take time off.
“We’re a larger company but we did have some people want to step back for personal reasons, maybe to take care of some elderly or having kids and, you know, we granted them those wishes,” LaPorte said. “We are not losing anybody. We have a great big company and a great team and after this is all over, we’ll come back together. But it is difficult.”
LaPorte said if he used the material to manufacture boat covers, the company would make $100,000 — but he said that’s not the focus right now.
“We’re not trying to make money on these things,” he said. “We’re just trying to break even enough to keep our doors open and still help with everybody in society as much as we can.”
“Instead of just bulking up one place, we’re trying to give everybody an opportunity,” LaPorte said.
He said, though, that he hopes other companies step up to manufacture masks, because his company can’t serve everyone.
“Nobody’s going to be able to supply the demand,” he said. “We all just have to take little bites at a time, and we’re literally trying to work with as many companies as we can, get them 200 to 300 to keep people.”g