Suit maker waiting for green light from Illinois to produce protective masks for doctors, nurses fighting COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Normally the Hart Schaffner and Marx plant would be buzzing with sewing machines with employees making high-end suits.

But like most other non-essential businesses, the plant is closed.

All is quiet, at least for now.

The COO said he is trying to get the green light from the state to start producing protective masks.

RELATED: Designer Barbara Bates makes nearly 2K facial masks for frontline health care workers

"First and foremost there are people that need surgical masks and surgical gowns. We have a factory that is sitting idle," said Ken Ragland of Hart Schaffner and Marx.

Ragland said his company is a natural fit to produce masks. He said they would meet all the FDA specs, all he needs to do order the materials.

Those materials would run about $1 million, which is why he doesn't want to begin before he is assured of orders.

Right now the company's nearly 300 employees are on furlough, but they could be back in on short notice.

Ragland has been trying to get state approval for nearly two weeks even as Gov. JB Pritzker talks about the need.

"We will not rest until we get the equipment in the hands of everyone in the state who needs it.," said Governor JB Pritzker in his afternoon news conference Friday.

Ragland said his company could produce more than 250,000 masks a week, equipment that he says is desperately needed by health care workers around the state.

The company would sell the masks at their cost, which is less than $3 a mask. Ragland said he is working with several other high-end suit makers in other parts of the country who are also willing to help.

"We're beyond frustrated, we're angry. Very much emotional about it because we know we can help," said Ragland.

The Illinois Department of Central Management Services or "CMS" confirms it was contacted by W Diamond Group, the company that owns Hart Schaffner and Marx. In a statement to ABC7, CMS says it's "...working with vendors of every size and industry to support the needs of State agencies during the COVID-19 response. We are working with interested businesses offering support, including W Diamond Group, to help them navigate the process to quickly and efficiently provide critical materials and services, like personal protective equipment to State agencies."

The State says the process of making W Diamond Group a potential State vendor is ongoing.

The masks are designed to go through 15 to 18 wash cycles so they would last between two and three weeks.

Once they get the green light to begin production, they could be in the hands of those who need them within about a week.
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.