Giant auto supplier Magna International is using its car seat sewing skills to get more surgical face masks to the medical community during the coronavirus pandemic.
Magna has a team of nine designers in Novi who have backgrounds in fashion. The team typically designs luxurious car seats.
Now they're sewing face masks.
"Being able to create products, which is something I'm passionate about, to potentially help thousands of people is so important to me and to Magna," said Ashley Harris, an engineer at Magna and a metro Detroit dressmaker with a private label.
Harris is sewing dozens of the much-needed face masks daily. She and the team also put together an instructional guide for folks huddled at home with a sewing machine and time on their hands. Yep, most fabric stores are open because they're considered essential services.
Ashley Harris, one of Magna's designers, sews face masks and put together an instructional guide for people to make masks. (Photo: Magna International)
Magna is also boosting production at its cut and sew seating factories around the world to make the medical masks. It also secured more than half-a-million masks from China to donate to hospitals in North America and Italy.
Finally, Magna said it is in discussions with automakers on providing parts for "ventilators, face shields and more."
"Magna employees are problem solvers by nature, and we are committed to supporting the communities where we work and live," said Tracy Fuerst, Magna's vice president of corporate communications in a statement.
Harris, 30, is leading the local effort to sew face masks.
She joined Magna in 2017 as a product engineer on seat trim and Harris was named Hour magazine’s best dressmaker in 2019.
Her website said she graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and was a former intern for Vera Wang, known for designing wedding gowns.
A dress designed by Ashley Harris, who is also a Magna International engineer for seat trim. (Photo: Magna International)
That glamour is on hold. Now Harris is sewing about 40 face masks a day.
"This is why I love this company so much," Harris said. "They allow us to be entrepreneurial no matter the situation."
Harris is also researching other ways the trim team can help in the fight against coronavirus. For now, a Magna spokesman said the Novi trim team is receiving several emails a day from colleagues around the world actively sewing with Harris' and the team's instructional template.
Magna has 348 locations around the world and reported $39.4 billion in 2019 sales. It makes a variety of auto parts from technology to body and exteriors to power train. It is well known for car seats. It makes car seats for vehicles such as General Motors' GMC Acadia, Cadillac XT5 and XT6 SUVs.
In recent years, Magna has pushed to hire people with degrees and backgrounds in fashion design to use their creative eye in seat design.
"It’s all about blending art and engineering as we give our customers — and consumers — the best in seat-trim covers," wrote Frank Eupizi, Magna's director of engineering for seating in a February Magna blog.
This nine-member Magna group in Novi gives the "haute couture touch to a wide range of vehicles, including the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt, Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Cadillac XT5 and Jeep Grand Cherokee,” Eupizi wrote.
Magna has 348 locations around the world including Spring Hill, Tennessee, where it makes car seats for GM's Spring Hill Assembly plant where the GMC Acadia, Cadillac XT5 and XT6 SUVs are built.
In Europe, where Magna’s seating plants specialize in cut and sew capabilities, the company has increased production of the face masks to help address a shortage in Italy.
In Russia, Serbia and the Czech Republic, Magna employees now produce 51,000 masks per day of two different designs, one more complex with an additional filter pocket, Fuerst said.
In Mexico, Magna said its factories are ramping up to 2,000 face masks made per day with a goal to reach the same levels as Europe. These masks are for use within the local community.
"Our divisions and employees around the world are donating gloves to hospitals, meals to health-care workers, and hygiene kits to shelters," Fuerst said.