COVID is certainly a word that I can’t wait to remove from my vocabulary. It has turned our planet upside down and literally stopped most of the world….with the exception of a few amazing people, one of them who I had the good fortune to talk to last week. Her name is Summer Germann and she is no stranger to hospitals, illness, tragedy or adversity. What is remarkable about Summer is that she uses all of this adversity, including COVID, as fuel for good. She is a bright light who started a nonprofit, business and most recently reached out to her team to begin manufacturing PPE (personal protective gear) in the form of masks for thousands of health care workers across the country. A modern-day hero. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Brave Gowns does?
Summer Germann: We manufacture hospital gowns for kids, these are not standard hospital gowns. Brave Gowns transform the spirit of a child and allow them to use their imaginations. We didn’t want to just do a tchotchke gown where we put a design on it, so we recreated an entire design that could access the patient’s entire body without having to move them. I felt like just because you’re going through treatment doesn’t mean that you should lose like all modesty and pride, right? So teenage girls or women or even boys can stay covered while they access any part that is needed. So that was really important to me that we actually had a quality product that is made here in the United States.
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Brave Gowns?
Summer Germann: In 2002, I had lost my only sibling, my little brother, Mac who was 10 years old to two types of leukemia. I happen to be 15 years older than Mac and was 25, when Mac went to heaven in 2002. He was discharged the morning before Thanksgiving and he was to come home for Thanksgiving the next morning.
Mac was hooked up to a dialysis machine and had never asked my mom to come to lay in bed and hold his hand. He was 10 and all boy, and he said, “Can you hold my hand?” So she crawled in bed with him thinking, maybe it was good to get rest. And she woke up to the machine beeping and Mac in cardiac arrest.
So honestly, there are so many blessings in the story. We had a whole year where Mac was in the hospital and we really just had that year to spend with him. We catered to him, with what we didn’t know at the time was a bucket list. It was non stop. I spent that night before he died with him. So if we had to lose him or for him to go, it was just the most perfect way. How many people get to have that gift?
I knew there’s no way I’m going to have this lesson in life and go back to a “normal life.” I knew I had to take this experience and do something with it. And it took a long time, it took 12 years, it wasn’t like I walked out of the hospital knowing what that was. I worked with my brother’s stem cell transplant team and his head nurse at the time when he was sick. 12 years had gone past and we created this ultimate gown in 2015.
Charity Matters: Explain what Happy Ditto is and how it is related to Brave Gowns?
Summer Germann: I started the nonprofit Happy Ditto (which is happiness doubled) first because I was so adamant about making sure this work was all done through a nonprofit. Happy Ditto is a nonprofit where people can buy or sponsor hospital brave gowns for children. Then I got to a point where I had to turn it into a business as well because we were getting orders from hospitals that can’t purchase from nonprofits. I just made sure all the bases were covered, as long as we get the gowns to the kids.
Charity Matters: How did you decide to get into the PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for COVID?
Summer Germann: Friday, March 13th I called my designer and I knew we had to figure out a way to help. We had talked about making masks and families have asked us for years. I knew we could make them fun. I called my factory and told them what I wanted to do and they had already started a prototype three weeks before. I said you have to give me a product that I believe in and this isn’t about money. It was supposed to be retailed at $12. We brought it down to $9 and we incur the shipping to get into the hospitals They sent over the prototype and I said, “Okay, I just launched.” By Monday we had 11,000 orders.
We are breaking even and not doing this for profit, there probably will come a time where mask are the new norm and someone will be pursuing that but right now, someone will call and say,” I really am in a situation I need a mask.” Then I’m just overnighting it.
Charity Matters: What is it like trying to keep up with the need and demand?
Summer Germann: We have shipped over 30,000 masks in less than two weeks. We’re doing mask for the military at Camp Pendleton, for police precincts, I think we have sent to something like 177 precincts for New York. We’ve sent off to over 40 hospitals, we have a huge list.
And then we also have people purchasing masks in bulk and they’re sending them to hospitals with us. So they’re just been going in every direction every which way. And then we have another line that’s for individual orders. And I know everyone’s scared because I can tell you we’re getting 2800 emails a day.
Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?
Summer Germann: Staying true to exactly what our purpose is. To be honest, I’ve received all of these offers to buy our company but they came with manufacturing in China. I want the children in the best quality gown I can give them as fast as possible. All of our products are made on-demand, they’re never sitting on a shelf and never sitting in plastic. They are manufactured and within three to five days and on a child. I just think it’s at a time where the kids are so sensitive and from infection, this is not the time to have gowns sitting for six months in a warehouse.
Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?
Summer Germann: I think everyone behind the scenes is my grandma or in a family with a medically fragile child, like Mac, and they’re all scared, right? All we did was create a better product and we’re sending them out there. We’re doing the best we can in the midst of this truth. We have three shifts going and opened the second factory. I saw a news story last night that said that the BraveGowns are slowing down the Coronavirus. That people think that, well that’s wonderful. I never even thought about our work like that. I just feel like I’m just giving people a piece of comfort.
Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?
Summer Germann: I really don’t. I feel like we’re just getting started five years in. I said recently,” I finally see the beginning.” I tried to explain it to someone the other day that is not in business. And I said, “I feel like we’re in the middle of building a house. And all I see is I’m standing in a kitchen that’s just gutted and chaos all around me.”
The first two weeks of the 2800 emails and I was like, oh my god this isn’t working. I was still like, I’m still trying to stop and make dinner and do dishes like you know, like still just normal. I think that article yesterday would be the first time where I actually thought wow, people are believing in me a lot more than I see what I’m actually doing.
Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?
Summer Germann: I know it’s bigger than me. And it’s time for me to be a really great ambassador for it and say goodbye. I think there’s so much potential for Brave Gowns to be the new norm, it deserves to be the new norm. I think it’s time for me to be the voice of Brave Gowns and show up where I need to, but let someone else run the show.
Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?
Summer Germann: I haven’t changed I think in that’s what was really important to me, I really haven’t changed and I would still give the shirt off my back for anyone. I am still the person that walks in the post office and says something to make everyone laugh. I think my story is about just believing in yourself and knowing that you could do life differently, right?
It was not easy and but I stayed true to exactly what we started and who we wanted to be. And I think that’s really what this is all about. I hope that someday my whole story shows that you don’t have to do it a nine to five in a cubicle. You can take the risk you know, there’s so much more in life than just being okay and surviving. Go live. Right? And I think that’s what the whole thing.
There are so many times where my family only had faith. Faith was all we had. I don’t go to church. I just know that I’ve always had this in me. It’s not like I believe in God, so everything worked out. But I believe that everything that I went through and every hard moment, he had a greater purpose.
Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?
Summer Germann: I can see so many lessons where I shot myself in the foot. I think just knowing your way. It’s like it doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. Right? I’m just saying to the woman that has this vision and dream. It doesn’t matter where or what’s behind you, we are in a world of opportunity. Everything is so untraditional right now, tech companies are going back to hiring people without a college degree because they need people that think outside the box. Just always know your worth.
Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have haD and what your impact has been?
Summer Germann: We have given over 450,000 Brave Gowns in 387 children’s hospitals in seven countries. I spent five years not building a business, I built relationships with people. I built trust. Someone will text me and say,” Is this really Summer?” Yes, this is really Summer. I got a call from a nurse in Florida who has COVID her husband’s deployed. Her parents are in Texas. And she’s like, I just have no one to talk to you right now and she talked to me. And this was two days ago, that’s exactly why I’m here.
Those are the moments that I think are worth it. At the end of my life, I hope to God people really know that I cared. It wasn’t about like yes, I have this wonderful life now. It’s just the blessing of just being there for people. The impact is to think that I’ve brightened up inside the hospital walls and that the kids are in superheroes and princess costumes and that’s miraculous, right? But I also know there are 3.4 million children in the hospitals and I’ve only gotten 450,000 gowns out there.
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