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From designer clothes to isolation gowns: another Dallas company joins the coronavirus fight

"And just as they give us an order, we'll do it that week. And we'll do it as long as there's a need," said Finley Shirts president Marty Washington.

DALLAS — Marty Washington likes to say that when you wear the clothing of Dallas' Finley Shirts, you are one of the best-dressed people in any room. Now those best-dressed include doctors and nurses and first responders wearing some of the best protective equipment in town.

For 25 years the designer clothing company has provided quality shirts and dresses and more to retailers like Neiman Marcus. Now, Finley Shirts has joined the army of North Texas businesses that have pivoted their operations to help with a nationwide shortage of protective equipment for first-responders and medical personnel.

"It was Friday the 13th," Finley design director Finley Moll said of the day last month when they made their decision.

"It was truly Friday the 13th," said Washington, the Finley Shirts president.

"Judge Clay Jenkins was on TV that night. He said if you are a garment manufacturing company, we need you to make PPE. We need that," Washington said. "And I'm watching that and I'm like, 'OK we can do that.'"

A friend at a local hospital connected them with a surgical supply company willing to provide them with a few gowns to copy. Finley drew up their own designs. It took a great deal of effort, Washington says, to find a supplier with the approved fabric. But once they had it, the designer clothing company was suddenly in the "isolation gown" business too, making as many as 5,000 a week.

"So we're getting orders from nursing homes, some other hospitals, various places," said Washington. "And just as they give us an order, we'll do it that week. And we'll do it as long as there's a need."

There are practical economic reasons for doing this too. The rest of their business came to a complete stop as retailers, under shelter in place orders across the United States, closed their doors. The gown-making operation, which they hope to expand to up to 7,000 a day or more, keeps their sewers and contractors employed.

"To keep our factories working and keep the lights on so that when the stores do reopen we will still be in business," Finley Moll said. "I don't think anybody cares about making a bunch of money. They're just trying to stay alive."

And in a very real sense joining the growing American retail army to keep medical professionals alive too.

"We're going to do it until they don't need it anymore," said Washington.

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