The product development team at Eileen Fisher in Irvington, NY, furloughed due to the corona pandemic, hasn’t stopped leveraging lean. The group decided to donate its time to the crisis at hand by making Eileen Fisher masks and gowns. They’re donating non-medical-grade masks to local first responders and medical-grade gowns to the White Plains Hospital.
At left, Phaiboon Vongsitthichaikul sews a sleeve to a hospital gown. At right, Rosa Alonzo finishes the hem of a gown.
The undertaking involves making large quantities—over 1,200—of each, which required the team of five to shift from sewing samples and prototypes to ramping up production of items they’d never sewn before. “Using Lean Thinking helped us design a work process that we’d never done before—and under the current constraints imposed by the pandemic,” said Johanne Read, manager of product development.
Undaunted by the challenge, the team experimented with how to set up a safe production assembly system that adhered to social distancing recommendations. After a few tries setting up the gown-making process, they set up carts at each station that can be pushed from one person to the next, so people maintained a safe distance from each other. The setup had the added benefit of eliminating the wasted time and motion of having people personally transport the work to the next workstation.
At left, Sophia Min sews elastic into a sleeve opening of a hospital gown. At right, Flavius Jusu-Davies cuts elastic for the gowns' sleeve openings.
Another experiment involved identifying skillsets and determining “who did what well and the fastest,” then switching people around, so each was working on the tasks that best match their capability.
“I truly feel we were able to take this project on and are more efficient because of our work to adopt Lean Thinking and learn how to design a lean process,” Read added.
The Eileen Fisher story begins at approximately 1:45.