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By Bryan Hay

A renowned Long Island home furnishings company with ties to Lafayette College is answering the call to help produce face masks in the national fight against COVID-19.

Kravet Inc., a fifth-generation family business headquartered in Bethpage, N.Y, has donated 3,100 yards of fabric and elastic to facilities that have altered their manufacturing processes to make much needed face masks for medical professionals, first responders, and patients on the front lines of the pandemic. 

Ellen Kravet Burke ’76

“I sit on the board of a local hospital in New Jersey,  and my brother (Cary, president of Kravet Inc.) sits on the board of a hospital system in Long Island. And ironically or coincidentally, within the same day, we were both approached by the CEOs of those systems and asked if we could donate some fabric for masks,” says Ellen Kravet Burke ’76, Kravet Inc.’s co-principal and executive vice president.

“And of course we could. So we put that into action,” says Kravet Burke, who has since been on the phone with hospitals in need and sewing facilities across the country.

Shipments of Kravet Inc.’s tightly woven cotton fabric have been sent to Woodard, a furniture maker in Owosso, Mich., which has converted part of its operations to make non-N95 face masks. Some health care professionals have been using cotton masks with N95 masks, which are designed to filter out 95% of airborne particles.

“And they are up to speed making masks,” says Kravet Burke, noting that her company also has shipped fabric to a small outdoor furniture company in Illinois that is making masks.

While the 100% cotton fabric doesn’t comply with N95 standards, “some hospital workers are putting the cotton masks over the N95 masks to extend their life spans,” she says. 

One downside to pure cotton masks is that they can be used only once and cannot be laundered because they will shrink in a hospital’s commercial laundering system.

Kravet Inc. is experimenting by combining plastic and fabric, similar to the blue material that you might see lining a dental tray or in an operating room.

“We’re going to try and experiment and try to make that into masks. We think we’ll be able to do it,” says Kravet Burke, who credits her time at Lafayette for instilling in her the importance of citizenship. 

“We have so many requests from hospitals everywhere, from big hospital systems to small independent hospitals to first-line health care workers,” she says. “They’re all facing emergencies, working long shifts and in need of basic equipment to help keep them safe.” 

A Kravet Inc. employee with a face mask made from fabric samples.

Kravet Inc., too, has shifted its warehouse operations in South Carolina, where employees sew colorful fabric samples for sofas and draperies into material that can be converted into face masks. As of now, the warehouse remains open; if the state mandates certain business closures, the company hopes it can continue its work as an essential operation in making the masks.

“We have separated these employees as much as possible,” Kravet Burke says. All office employees customer service, purchasing, accounting are working from home.

The company, which distributes fabrics, furniture, wall coverings, trimmings, and accessories, identified two South Carolina companies with inventories of elastic, also a scarce commodity these days.

“There’s also a shortage of elastic, which is used to secure masks, in this country because most of it comes from China,” Kravet Burke says. “So the elastic problem is settled, at least for now.”

Kravet Inc., a history of answering the call

Founded in 1918 by Samuel Kravet (Kravet Burke’s great-grandfather), a Russian immigrant tailor and his four sons, Kravet Inc. has responded in other times of crisis, supplying the U.S. military in World War II with mohair and heavy wools used to add strength and sturdiness to the interior of military vehicles.

A career helping others

After graduating from Lafayette with a degree in psychology, Kravet Burke attended Hofstra University, earning a master’s degree in early education/special education. Before joining the family business in 1988, she taught special education in Ventnor, N.J., for eight years, helping children overcome emotional challenges and developmental difficulties.

She serves as chairman of the board of the New York School of Interior Design in New York City and on the board at Cape Regional Health System in Cape May Court House, N.J. Always maintaining close ties to Lafayette, Kravet Burke is an active member of the Committee of Lafayette Women and past president of the South Jersey Alumni Club. She lives in Avalon, N.J., with her husband of 42 years, Ray Burke III ’75.

Lafayette, a grounding for life

“Lafayette College taught me how to research, not to react on impulse, and to be fair to others,” she says. “It taught me the good skills in life. Not that I didn’t receive that from my parents, because I certainly did, but Lafayette helped make me a better citizen.”

Categorized in: Alumni, Alumni Profiles, alumni-heroes, COVID-19 News, Featured News, News and Features
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  1. Kris H. Rudisill says:

    Ellen and family and all from Kravet, Inc. thanks for making a difference! Reminds me of a quote from George Washington Carver…”How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, tolerant of the weak and strong–because someday you will have been all of these.”
    Kris H. Rudisill ’84

  2. Melanie Ginter says:

    Proud to be a longtime Kravet customer and Lafayette parent!

  3. Trudy Amato says:

    Way to go Kravet Inc. So proud to be part of the retiree Kravet Family.

  4. Francey Burke says:

    Ellen and family, and all your Kravet staff, this is amazing!

  5. Riley K Temple says:

    My immediate reaction in reading this story was, “of course Ellen is doing the good thing — the right thing.” I met Ellen many years ago at one of the myriad Lafayette events. She has a big heart and soul, and is truly committed to the common good. Hers is a compass that always and ever points “due north.” Thank you, dear Ellen.

    Riley Temple ’71

  6. Laurie Harrison says:

    This is a wonderful program and I commend you on your efforts. We all need to reach out to help those around us. We are making masks here in Palm Coast Florida as well. There are about 30 of us sewing so far and we have simple patterns so we are able to put out about 5 per hour.
    Materials and elastic are getting scarce because the only place we really have is hobby lobby and their Warehouse closed last week. We are appealing to people who might have any stocks of elastic from are there sewing projects. if there is still material or elastic available we would certainly like to have a small shipment to share with the girls. God bless you for what you’ve been doing.

  7. Alice Brogan says:

    A wonderful article on a wonderful family and company….. a true example of Americans at their best!
    Truly inspiring. Being a nurse, it meant so much to me.
    Thank you from the world
    Alice F Brogan

  8. Diane Hurd says:

    What a beautiful, and well-written, example of citizen action and American ingenuity. Thank you for sharing and thank you to Ellen Kravet Burke for doing good and thinking of others as you do.

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