Detroit stitchers make medical gowns for health care workers

Robin Buckson
The Detroit News

Detroit — The nimble fingers and skillful hands of 14 stitchers at Empowerment Plan make up two assembly lines, a small but potent group helping to supply health care workers at Detroit Medical Center facilities with medical gowns.

Before the coronavirus hit Michigan, the workers at the Kercheval Avenue plant in Detroit were sewing jackets that turn into sleeping bags.

"With the help of the Detroit Lions, we got a grant to get everything started as far as machines and materials and the wages for the employees that we have right now," said production manager Alfonso Marcano.

Coordinating several local companies is the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center at a recently built out space on Cass. ISAIC CEO Jen Guarino standardized the design for the gowns, bought the material in bulk, cut it and sent it out for companies like Empowerment Plan and Detroit Denim Co. to make into medical gowns.

"I feel heartened and heartsick at the same time," said Guarino. "I am heartened that we are helping protect people but heartsick for the reason that we need it. I am glad we have so many people coming together to do something about it.

"A lot of these people would not be working and business would not be operating if we were not doing this. Domestic manufacturing really matters." 

Time will tell about any lasting change in domestic manufacturing, but for now, the 14 workers at Empowerment Plan are happy to be revving their sewing machines, joined Monday by their colleagues returning to produce jackets again.

"We’re happy to be helping our community and happy to be doing this," Marcano says.