COVID anniversary special: How a 75-yr old PPE company took charge during the crisis, while you were busy making Dalgona coffee

This episode of The Vaccine Challenge is hosted by Priyanka Asera and features Julie Copeland, CEO of Arbill. Arbill, a women-owned company that has been protecting workers for 75 years, focuses on saving lives every day through an array of PPE products including: hand protection, eye protection, hearing protection, head protection, respiratory protection, disposable clothing and independently-tested cloth face masks.

So when the pandemic hit in 2020 - they were right in the eye of the storm, and in a unique position to use their decades of expertise to jump in and take charge of the situation. And boy, did they deliver!

If you’ve thought about what goes down behind the scenes of a PPE company when they realize that this year is going to be very, very different, or how the demand for PPE has changed within industries in the last year, or indeed how an organization and its people step up and deliver when faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really make a difference during a challenging phase -- listen on!

Topics touched upon:

  • We’re nearing the one year anniversary of the global lockdown. Since Arbill has been in the PPE business for over 75 years, describe that exact day or moment or incident last year when it clicked to you for the first time that PPE demand is going to be through the roof because of this new virus that’s taking over the world?

  • How did you as an organization step up to the challenge given you were in the eye of the storm and truly in a position to make a difference - but only at the cost of insane number of working hours

  • What were some of the initial challenges for Arbill back in Feb/March 2020 when things were unfolding at such a quick pace? What are the current challenges in comparison now that we’ve somewhat settled into the pandemic?

  • I remember when I tried to buy an N95 mask for the first time back in 2020 when I had to travel, I had no way to know which was good quality and which wasn’t. How does navigate the world of potential counterfeiting but also striking that balance between what is enough for a particular job and what might be overkill and therefore not necessary?

  • Can you quantify how the demand for PPE has changed from Pre-COVID to now? Which industries have become the highest adopters or users of it?

  • “PPE” and “face masks” have now become part of our normal lexicon. What else have you seen change as the result of the pandemic and what changes are here to stay?

  • What’s the biggest takeaway for you as a company from this pandemic?

About Julie

Julie Copeland has served as CEO of Philadelphia-based Arbill since 2005. Arbill, a women-owned company that has been protecting workers for 75 years, focuses on saving lives every day through an array of PPE products including: hand protection, eye protection, hearing protection, head protection, respiratory protection, disposable clothing and independently-tested cloth face masks. In 2015, Arbill became a GSA-approved provider of safety products to government agencies.

In her time as CEO, Copeland has led the Arbill team in producing nearly 1,000 safety-related Truline products, as well as launching SafetyCare – a full-service approach to all things safety. Arbill’s manufacturing operations have expanded to locations in eleven countries under Copeland’s leadership.

In 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Copeland launched a consumer division as a way to implement all that Arbill has learned in the past 75 years from working with enterprises, in order to efficiently protect everyday people. The first product in Arbill’s consumer line, the “Together: The Safety Mask,” was independently tested to European’s AFNOR standard and found to have 95% effective fabric filtration, inhibit microbial growth in fabric, be more breathable than disposable medical masks and maintain effectiveness up to 50 washes. Since developing The Safety Mask, Copeland has taken the lead on educating the public about proper cloth face coverings, sustainability in masks and things everyone should know when it comes to purchasing effective PPE.

In addition to striving to make the world a better and safer place, Copeland dedicates her time to give back to her community and serves as a board member for The American Red Cross in five counties throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. Copeland has been recognized as one of Pennsylvania's Best 50 Women in Business, one of Enterprising Women’s Top Women Entrepreneurs and a Top 100 Visionary Leaders by Real Leaders Magazine. She also serves on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers, representing every U.S. industrial sector, and served as past Chair of the WBENC Forum leading 14,000 certified women-owned businesses for six years.

Copeland earned a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University and master’s degree in Business Administration from Temple University. She has also participated in Harvard Business School’s Executive Program and the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University’s Innovation Program.