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Melly Masks: Made in Leadville

This article and photo first appeared in Leadville Today on March 27, 2020.

Clothing Company Helps Conquer COVID-19

The Leadville clothing store that put the microfiber hoodie to the front of every Rocky Mountain fashion closet will soon be adding one more item to their manufacturing line. But you won’t find these Mellys in their store. And you won’t find them on their website either. In fact, the hope is that most people will never have to see a Melly Mask up close. But if you do, it could save your life.

Melanzana, The Outdoor Clothing Company located in Leadville, Colorado will soon begin making fabric surgical masks, according to owner Fritz Howard. The manufacturing shop for the wildly popular line of microfiber clothing – which can barely be kept on the shelf these days – will temporarily transition into making personal protective equipment (PPE) for Lake County healthcare workers, EMTs, firefighters and law enforcement officers.

“I was first contacted by Vail Health who asked if we could make masks,” explained Howard who has been making his Mellys (hoodies, jackets, dresses and more!) in America’s highest city since 1994. “Then I talked to the Leadville hospital and they needed some too.”

Of course, not all medical masks are created equal. The N95 respirators, which are making headlines around the globe due to their short supply and big need, are made from a finely-webbed special fabric and designed to fit so they form a seal around the nose and mouth. It’s a trusted piece of armor for doctors and nurses as these masks can block at least 95% of particles.

The new Melly Mask will be made from the blue material used to wrap sterilized surgical instruments. While these masks will be designed to fit loosely on the face, they still catch some of the particles and help protect medical workers, emergency responders, firefighters and law enforcement officers from infection.

“It’s just beautiful. Probably the best made mask I’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger of Rocky Mountain Family Practice in Leadville.  She was at the Leadville Hospital Board meeting yesterday as Howard presented a few #mellymask prototypes to the Lake County emergency community. And while the Leadville doctor’s sentiment may seem a bit overstated, for those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle these Melly Masks will make a world of difference.

“Right now, we’re getting as much use as we can from our N95s. And the supply is okay, as of today,” said Dr. Lisa who is also the Chief Medical Officer for Lake County.

The surgical fabric which is being supplied by St. Vincent Hospital is key.  As the need for masks grows, along with (thankfully) the list of volunteers and production companies willing to make them, it’s the materials, especially this kind of surgical cloth, which is quickly disappearing in the markets.

The one advantage to these masks is that they are re-usable once they undergo a sterilization process. While in no way do they replace the sacred N95 surgical masks that are critical for doctors and nurses, these masks can add a shield of protection for many other emergency responders who will still be making contact with patients and people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, the Melanzana store and sewing shop has been closed. First, as a precautionary measure for his staff, and then as part of a statewide shut down issued by the Colorado Governor on March 25. The staff will begin disinfecting and re-arranging the clothing manufacturing facility to meet the Center for Disease Control standards for safety and social distancing, as well as providing maximum protection for his staff.

Howard said that the Leadville Hospital has ordered upwards of 2,000 of the masks and plans to distribute them to Lake County healthcare and emergency personnel. Please note that these masks WILL NOT be sold to the general public.

“It’s a life-saving endeavor and we can’t thank him enough,” said Dr. Zwerdlinger.

However, it’s not the first time the beloved clothing manufacturing has shown its Leadville heart. The humble founder would likely object, but in times such as these, sharing good news helps balance out the rest. So hurray to Melanzana for supporting student-athletes with some SA-weet Melly cycling jackets, for always throwing down with a silent auction item, and yes, readers aren’t likely to forget five years ago when Melanzana donated 150 hats and hoodies to the village of Ghormu in Nepal where 40 out of 42 homes have been destroyed by an earthquake in April 2015.

Leadvillites have always cherished their Mellys! Wearing them with pride!

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