Haverhill’s Southwick to Rehire Workers, Switch From Brooks Brothers Suits to Medical Supplies

Mayor James J. Fiorentini; City Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua and then-City Councilor X. Andy Vargas toured Haverhill’s Southwick manufacturing in November 2016. (WHAV News file photograph.)

The 400 laid off employees of Haverhill’s Southwick Clothing, manufacturer of Brooks Brothers suits, could be coming back to work making medical supplies.

The Computer Drive company said Monday it is in the process of converting its factories from manufacturing ties, shirts and suits to making gowns and up to 150,000 medical masks per day. Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini said he has worked with Congresswoman Lori Trahan and other local, state and federal officials to help.

“Over the past few weeks we’ve heard from medical people all throughout this area that they’re desperate for masks, gowns and the certified masks, which are called N95 masks,” he said.

The mayor explained production of certified masks will take longer to accomplish because of required regulatory approvals. However, he said, his office also learned of the need for cloth masks after reaching out to nursing homes, assisted living, food banks, shelters, and meal programs.

“There is a tremendous demand for the cloth masks and also for the gowns. There is a tremendous shortage of gowns and masks,” said Fiorentini

“I am proud to see private companies, like Brooks Brothers, raise a hand to join the nationwide call to action to combat this pandemic. The president should be pulling every lever in his power to urge manufacturers to help our frontline healthcare workers during this time of great need,” said Trahan.

The company has also partnered with leading universities recognized for both textiles and technology in order to develop the prototypes. Brooks Brothers officials said the company has also been working closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expedite the approval process.

CEO Claudio Del Vecchio said in a statement, “These are challenging times that are impacting us all. We are deeply grateful to the medical personnel at the frontlines who are fighting the pandemic, and we are honored to do our part and join our peers in retail to provide protective masks that our health care system critically needs. I also want to thank our dedicated manufacturing employees who are returning to work as we reopen our factories to make this possible.”

Fiorentini said the company needs to purchase new equipment and reconfigure work spaces so that employees are properly spaced apart in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Financing could come, in part, from a portion of Haverhill’s federal Community Development Block Grants.

“We’ve offered to lend them through our CDBG money enough money to get the process started,” he added.

The mayor explained the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the grants, gave permission Friday to lend Brooks Brothers $84,000. Fiorentini noted the city is expected to receive an additional $600,000 in federal aid under the recently approved economic stimulus package.

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