Couch Potatoes factory converted to face mask operation

AUSTIN — The founders of Austin’s Couch Potatoes Furniture have turned their upholstery factory into one that will produce thousands of face masks for health care providers and others during the coronavirus crisis.

What’s more, the owners are urging other local upholstery producers to temporarily make the same shift, and they’re ready to provide the design blueprints and other details to make it happen.

In its 50,000-square-foot production and warehouse facility in east Austin, the company is using an Autometrix machine to cut the mask template out of non-woven polypropylene material. It’s the same fabric Couch Potatoes regularly would use to make the inside pillow casing shells for its sofas — and the same as the N95 masks, which are now in short supply and huge demand.

After a quick brainstorm, business partner and designer Dan Anthony went to work sketching out a design for a mask prototype (patent pending). When he couldn’t find elastic for the part that stretches over the ears (Joann Fabric and similar stores have been closed), he resorted to rubber bands he picked up at Office Depot.

“Thirty seconds later and (pennies) later, we have a medical mask,” said Couch Potatoes partner Brian Morgan in an email to Furniture Today. He clarified later, referring to the masks simply as “masks,” although the material used to create the breath barriers is essentially the same.
“The approval process (to produce medical masks) in this moment of crisis is not going to happen,” Morgan said. At the same time, however he points to a paragraph on the Centers for Disease Control website that gives a nod to this sort of work around:

“In settings where facemasks are not available, HCP (health care providers) might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered PPE (personal protective equipment), since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.”

Morgan added, “And we are in a last resort situation.”

The hundreds of masks produced over the weekend were approved for use by Austin’s Combined Transportation, Emergency & Communications Center (CTECC) and went to local hospitals, pediatric groups, and those with compromised immune systems in need. ACP is partnering with Austin Disaster Relief Network to get the supplies in the right hands.

Couch Potatoes posted a message on Instagram and Facebook later Friday night, letting its followers know what it was up to, that it had already reached out to many on the front lines but was also encouraging others in need of masks to contact the company at Masks@austincouches.com.

It was overwhelmed with responses, not just from local health care providers, but out-of-state doctors and others who have had to resort to reusing their masks. “We have nurses, doctors in California in tears when we tell them what we can do,” Morgan said.

“I love the furniture industry,” Morgan said in an email. “I love my customers, we couldn’t be like (some others) hitting the grocery store and waiting out the storm. We had to do something about it. We took action. If you are in this industry, it’s because you love people. We need to bring comfort today. So the need was the call.”

Morgan said the plan is to make about 3,500 masks a day with his crew of 15 production employees for as long as it has, or can get its hands on, the needed materials and provide them for free. When presenting to city leaders recently, the company was asked if it could come up with a design for full-length hospital gowns, too, (and it has),” he said.

Several other industry companies also have stepped up to the plate with similar production shifts. Couch Potatoes is urging others in the industry with similar capability to get involved given how the shift to overseas production has left the country in short supply of masks as this critical time. Morgan noted the company is willing share its mask design and procedure “with every furniture factory in the U.S. and plans to have a video highlighting the procedure soon.

“If they have a CNC fabric-cutting machine and have labor or volunteers to help make medical masks, we have devised the plan. Help save lives with our factory tools.”

“Austin’s Couch Potatoes mission is to use furniture to empower people around the world to thrive, however that may look,”  Brian Morgan said in a release.  “We have been blown away by our employees volunteering their time and skills to make as many gowns and masks as possible to those in need.”

Separately, Couch Potatoes’s three retail stores have remained open, although recently with shortened hours of operation. Anthony, Morgan and Morgan’s brother Travis Morgan recently partnered with the Winter family of Furniture Mall of Kansas to open a 95,000-square-foot Furniture Mall of Texas store in Austin later this year. The Winters have become partners in the Austin Couch Potatoes business as well.

Source: furnituretoday