Duluth Pack is pivoting from canvas and leather bag creation to producing reusable hospital gowns in an effort to aid health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Duluth-based business is partnering with Stormy Kromer — an Ironwood, Michigan, manufacturer known for its signature wool winter caps with earflaps — to make the gowns. When production is fully underway, Duluth Pack expects to make up to 1,000 gowns daily for hospitals across the U.S.

CEO and President Tom Sega returned early Tuesday morning with a van full of fabric and machinery — supplied from Stormy Kromer — that will be used to make the gowns. The approximately two-hour trip between Duluth and Ironwood is one that is now common and necessary for the businesses to make gowns, Sega said.

Duluth Pack co-owners Tom Sega (left) and Mark Oestreich unload pieces for 900 hospital gowns Tuesday morning, handing them to workers who brought the fabric into the firm’s Lincoln Park building to be sowed. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Duluth Pack co-owners Tom Sega (left) and Mark Oestreich unload pieces for 900 hospital gowns Tuesday morning, handing them to workers who brought the fabric into the firm’s Lincoln Park building to be sowed. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

"There's been a tremendous amount of logistics. We've been working on this literally night and day for a couple of weeks to make sure that we could get all the logistics (sorted out)," he said.

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Duluth Pack's motivation to make gowns was twofold: It wanted to help health care workers and get its employees back to work.

"People that are in the medical industry on the front lines, they're putting themselves in harm's way every day. And we all need to step in and do whatever we can to help out," Sega said.

Around 25-30 staff will be brought back to work to sew gowns, deliver them and help with other tasks. Initially, Duluth Pack plans to make 600 gowns daily and later ramp up production.

"Everyone is so excited ... to come back to work. And when they found out what we're going to be doing, they were just really happy about it," Sega said. "We're all going to pitch in ... roll our sleeves up and make it happen."

Duluth Pack co-owners Mark Oestreich (left) and Tom Sega unload a sewing machine from a van to clear the way to a shipment of fabric pieces for 900 hospital gowns Tuesday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Duluth Pack co-owners Mark Oestreich (left) and Tom Sega unload a sewing machine from a van to clear the way to a shipment of fabric pieces for 900 hospital gowns Tuesday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

They've adjusted their machines, which are typically set to work on heavy fabric and leather, to better work with lightweight gown material, Sega said. He's confident that his staff, which will be working distanced from one another, will quickly adjust to new working techniques.

"The goal of this project is ... let's get it done as fast as we can to help out because there is a really big need for the gowns and the (personal protective equipment) right now," he said.

Duluth Pack joins a list of other area businesses that have pivoted to making PPE, including Wintergreen Northern Wear in Ely and Loll Designs and Frost River Trading Co. in Duluth.