Small shop, big impact

Bensalem family business Wazoodle Fabrics helps supply health care workers with reusable face masks

Helping out: The family-owned Wazoodle Fabrics in Bensalem is struggling to fill a backlog of more than 700 orders of fabric, which is cut and ready to be assembled into reusable face masks by the customer. Source: Archana Sharma

Archana Sharma is a self-described “one-woman crusade” who’s fighting for the government to keep textile mills, deemed “non-essential,” operating during the COVID-19 crisis. As mills shut down one by one, so does Sharma’s ability to supply fabric that’s desperately needed to craft reusable masks for health care workers.

The Bensalem resident is the CEO of local business Wazoodle Fabrics, which slowly but surely took off in 2010 after it began offering a material for reusable baby diapers. Never did Sharma imagine that the same material would someday be utilized to prevent a deadly virus.

But that is now the reality, with Wazoodle struggling to fulfill a backlog of more than 700 orders of the fabric, which is cut and ready to be assembled into face masks by the customer.

According to Sharma, Wazoodle’s efforts to aid in the pandemic started in January. When supply chains in China closed down, people from Hong Kong and Singapore stumbled across the tiny shop, located at 1360 Adams Road in Bensalem, requesting fabric to make masks. By February, calls from American hospitals were also flooding in.

“Suddenly, the shortage hits the country, and we were slammed with thousands of orders because the big companies and the government weren’t stepping up and I was begging to them,” she said.

Sharma, who boasts a background in the medical device industry, took the initiative to research FDA guidelines regarding the design of an effective face mask. While Wazoodle’s fabric meets various FDA criteria, including having adequate filtration to prevent the transfer of particles while breathing, Sharma penned a disclaimer that it’s not medical-grade. Still, with COVID-19 cases continuing to rise and a growing shortage of protective masks, doctors and nurses were desperate for something.

Wazoodle staff, comprised of Sharma, her husband, son and daughter-in-law, work non-stop from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily to tackle the seemingly endless list of orders.

“We don’t have time to eat, to sleep. I’m cooking in the office because I don’t have time to go home and cook,” Sharma said. “I’m happy to do it, I’m not complaining. But 30,000 yards were gone in one day. We have to start making more materials, and the mills are closing now. I have 700 orders sitting and everyone is desperate. It’s such a sad situation.”

Despite the long work days and impending end of operations once Wazoodle runs out of fabric, Sharma takes pride in what she and her loved ones are doing.

Recently, she received a message from two women who are leading a medical face mask project for Twin Rivers Quilters in New Bern, North Carolina. Christine Gillespie and Kathy Farrar explained how staff at Carolina East Hospital and Cancer Center were “thrilled” to learn of Wazoodle’s antimicrobial material that can be washed and reused.

Fulfilling a need: Christine Gillespie and Kathy Farrar, who are leading a medical face mask project for Twin Rivers Quilters in New Bern, North Carolina, purchased enough fabric from Wazoodle Fabrics to make 800 masks for staff at Carolina East Hospital and Cancer Center. Source: Christine Gillespie

“We have already sent 324 masks to the hospital that are being sterilized this weekend,” Gillespie wrote. “We have received two bolts of your fabric and we are distributing it to more quilters. We currently have enough product to make 800 more masks that use 100 percent cotton and your Zorb Original as additional antimicrobial filtration … Without your dedication on getting your product for us to use, this would not have been possible. We are thankful you are working hard to remain open and get us this material.”

Since February, Sharma has sent multiple messages to the county and state governments, pleading with them to keep the mills open so that she can continue distributing fabric for the masks. However, she said neither have replied.

“I’m telling the government to wake up and collaborate with the mills, don’t just send out calls for action. They won’t listen. No one is listening. We’re a small business and I’m a lone voice,” she said. “But when all this is said and done, and if we are still alive two months down the line, we can look back on this and say we did not give up. My family is so passionate about this. I’m happy that people are wearing face masks that were supplied by a Bensalem company. So, we can be proud.”

Visit wazoodle.com/ for more information.

The coronavirus situation continues to evolve on an hourly basis. Some of this information may have changed since ‘The Times’ went to print. Please check with individual businesses for updates.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com