Q&A with Rico Elmore, Fatheadz CEO

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In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Indianapolis-based Fatheadz Eyewear and its production partners have started making personal protective equipment for front-line health care workers. Fatheadz CEO Rico Elmore said he shifted the company’s work to safety goggles, safety glasses and splash shields for many reasons, including keeping his employees working. The company is one of several in Indiana making PPE during the pandemic.

Tell us about Fatheadz. What does the company usually do?

In 2004, I created an eyewear company that serviced people with larger-than-normal heads, i.e., me. I could never find eyewear to fit. So, that’s how it really got started to begin with. And throughout the years, we’ve grown the business pretty much with the crew that I have here. So, as I told somebody earlier, they’re as much family as my family because we spend so much time together.

Why did you decide to start producing PPE?

So, watching this whole pandemic and everything take place … it was one of those things where I knew that this wasn’t going to be fast, and I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, just from watching it all over the world. So, what I knew that I had to do was, I had to figure out a way to keep us all working and I had to figure out a way to keep everybody energized, keep everybody safe. And since we are a medical device manufacturer, we actually fall underneath the essential, so I ended up shifting the company with two or three of our manufacturers that we have worked with for several years.

Has it been difficult to retool your traditional product?

This has been 10-hour days, seven days a week for really since we started. And so we’ve definitely been putting in our time; it has made the time go a little quicker. So, I’ll be happy when it’s not here. Happy when we’re transitioning back to what we usually do. … So, at the end of the day, it’s much of the same. The bigger issue is … this is all critical stuff, so we have to air-freight everything in and that is the biggest issue that’s taking place right now.

Why did you feel like it was important for Fatheadz to step in and take this on as an Indiana company?

My daughter’s been in the hospital fighting leukemia, and to thank the people that are servicing her and taking care of her, those are the people that we have to keep healthy because, if we don’t have the people on the front lines, we’re all done. And so it had a lot to do with a lot of things. I have a lot of dear friends that are in the medical profession, and I can’t imagine sitting around and not making anything happen. I couldn’t see that.

How quickly is the product getting delivered to health care workers?

Actually, we’re delivering all this week—we’re delivering to Michigan, we’re delivering to Indiana and some of the other folks as well. I have a spreadsheet with every state in the United States plus D.C. … I update it with where the peak is and kind of what’s going on in that area. And really that is for us to keep an eye on it and say, “Hey, has somebody reached out to Vermont and somebody reached out to Massachusetts to find out if they still need this or if they need that?” And really that’s about us trying to plan ahead and trying to figure out when we can bring this stuff in and try to help them out at the same time.•

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