Blog: Rethinking Risk

Manufacturing effective face masks: Risk Innovation in practice

by | Apr 10, 2020

Manufacturing effective face masks: Risk Innovation in practice


Risk innovation is all about coming up with innovative ways of protecting existing value and, equally as important, creating new value without being tripped up by unanticipated risks.

Take, for example, Lindsay Medoff, the CEO and owner of Suay Sew Shop in Los Angeles. Like so many during this time of global crisis, Lindsay and her team were eager to help. Refocusing their shop’s resources, they joined the mask-making efforts for those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. Almost immediately, though, they recognized that health seemed to be a secondary concern to speed. Cotton fabric – the resource already on hand for many – filters particles at a variable rate of 20-60%.

Couldn’t they do better? Masks are needed now. But what suffers if speed is the only value taken into consideration? Health, safety, long-term viability. And so Medoff, along with Chloe Schempf and Heather Pavlu, got busy researching and testing: “We spent a few days researching and brainstorming any material that could filter: coffee filters, batting, window shades, Swiffer, interfacing, etc.,” Schempf said.

Eventually, they found a material that brought the filtration rate of their masks up to 93%. They are now in the process of manufacturing 200,000 masks and giving them to anyone on the front lines who need them; and the pattern – along with tested and recommended materials – is available for free on the Suay Sew Shop website.

The work of Medoff and her colleagues exemplifies risk innovation: finding ways to create, protect, and grow value. Recognizing risks that may arise, and taking steps to navigate around them. And it underlines how important a risk innovation mindset is to developing the agility, resilience and foresight needed to build a better future, in spite of novel coronavirus.

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