“We’ve ordered more than 50,000 masks and gloves”: Knixwear founder Joanna Griffiths has a new side hustle sourcing PPE
Here, she shares her quarantine routine
Who: Knixwear founder and CEO Joanna Griffiths
Days in isolation: 25
Quarantine team: Joanna, her husband Dave Barber; their one-year-old son, Cole; and their nanny, Rebecca
Location: The family’s Deer Park home
My mornings haven’t changed much since before quarantine. I’ll get up around 7 a.m., play with my son, Cole, for an hour, then get showered and ready for the day. My current breakfast go-to is coconut yogurt with frozen raspberries, along with coffee with milk. In the before times, our nanny arrived around 8:30 a.m., which is when I’d drive to work. When the pandemic started, we decided it would be easier if she moved in with us for the next month or so. We need the support now more than ever. My schedule has never been busier. We make stuff people want right now. Our sports bra sales have gone through the roof, and we just launched loungewear. I’m on Zoom calls throughout the day with our e-commerce, marketing and operations teams, board members, PR firms; or doing media interviews. I run a Zoom call with my Knixwear staff every morning at 9:30 a.m., which is my reason to get dressed for the day and try to look presentable. Those little things are important. The rest of the morning I’m working in the small office off my closet, which I had never used until now.
We’ve have had a strict policy at Knix for years where we don’t allow meetings or calls between noon and 1 p.m. I think it’s beneficial for our staff to have an hour break every day to clear their heads and do something for themselves. I use that time now to hang out with my family, have a lunch of either salad or last night’s leftovers, like roasted chicken and grilled vegetables, and go on a long walk with our dog, a rescue named Alfie. I also recently bought a Peloton, and have been using it three to four times a week, which is way more than I’d usually exercise. Before, I would do quick 20-minute workouts with an app called 8Fit. My husband, Dave, is also working from home. He’s our creative director at Knix. It’s been a balancing act deciding who does what around the house, especially since we work at the same company and usually have to be on the same calls. Having our nanny move in has made things easier—I know I’m really lucky in this situation.
We were one of the early businesses to close our stores and head office. My brother is a doctor in general surgery at a Hamilton hospital, and had been telling me how serious this could be. I also did my MBA at INSEAD, which is outside of Paris, and my friends in Europe were posting on our Facebook page about how bad things were getting. I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure that didn’t happen here, and take social distancing as seriously as possible. There was a connection in our office to one of the earlier cases in Toronto, so we had to get Crime Scene Cleaners to come in hazmat suits to deep clean the space. Both our head office and our retail stores have been closed since March 13. Thankfully, our online business is still dong well, and we are continuing to pay our retail staff. We have also piloted virtual fit sessions, where shoppers can book a digital appointment with one of our experts to determine their sizing.
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From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. I hang out with my family, play with my son, eat dinner and put him to bed. Dave usually cooks, although I do every so often. I make a mean mushroom risotto, and also love making curries with cauliflower rice. Dinners these days tend to be protein-based, like chicken or fish, with vegetables or a prepared dish from Summerhill Market on the side. We have been doing weekly themes to help the items in our fridge last longer—last week was Asian-inspired dinners.
At 7:30 p.m. my new job starts, which is sourcing PPE supplies like masks and gloves for hospitals in need. It started about two weeks ago, when my brother—the doctor in Hamilton—reached out to me because they were running low on supplies. At first I thought maybe we could re-purpose bras to use as face masks. When we reached out to our suppliers in Asia, they said they had access to the materials needed to make medical-grade N95 masks, surgical masks and surgical gloves, and could make them in their facilities. We started a GoFundMe campaign and have been putting in orders from our suppliers for hospitals that request them. It’s raised over $150,000 right now, and we’ve been able to order more than 50,000 masks and 50,000 gloves. They’re becoming more expensive, but I can’t control the prices. Before, masks would have been just over two bucks, now they are around $5. There’s just so much demand they keep getting bid up. There have been over 175 hospitals and clinics across the country asking for support, and I have a team of people working with them to prioritize needs and deliver shipments. I work on this side hustle until 1 a.m.—since the suppliers are in Asia, that’s my only window. We also recently partnered with the Robert Kerr Foundation, which is committing $200,000 to getting sanitizer, face masks and gloves into Toronto shelters. The scope keeps getting bigger, but I feel like I’m in it now, and will keep going until the need subsides.
When I need to go to sleep, I’m usually so tired I can just pass out. I’m used to high-pressure, unknown territories, so that part doesn’t really stress me out. What does stress me out, though, is the sense of urgency. I tend to have anxiety around the things I can’t control. The first week of social distancing, for instance, I would freak out if I saw businesses still open that shouldn’t be, or if friends weren’t taking it seriously. But I’ve found focusing on areas where we can help has been really therapeutic for me. I can’t control what my neighbours do, what other businesses do or how long we’re here. I can only control what I do with this time and reach out to people who are lonely and do what we can as a business to help.
—As told to Jean Grant