Orlando company Vestagen plans to do its part to help Haiti relief efforts

By Anthony Colarossi, Orlando Sentinel
2:51 AM EST, January 21, 2010

Like any good entrepreneur, Ben Favret saw vast potential in a solid idea – a breakthrough garment designed for the industry he knows so very well: health

He researched the technology, pitched the concept to industry contacts and raised the capital required to get his Orlando startup, Vestagen Technical Textiles, going.

Then, all he had to do was market Vestex – a brand of medical garments made to repel blood and other bodily fluids while killing off any infectious microorganisms
left behind.

Favret was busy doing just that when last week’s earthquake shook and tore apart much of Haiti’s urban center. Vestex products are cut and sewn in Haiti.

Fortunately – perhaps shockingly – for the company, the manufacturing operations it uses there were not seriously damaged in the quake. Nonetheless, Favret and his team asked themselves what many Central Floridians are asking in the wake of an epic tragedy: How can we help? “We thought our technology could be a part of helping the workers that are part of the relief effort,” said Favret, Vestagen’s president and CEO.

Favret’s team has approached the American Red Cross to see if the company could partner with the organization in Haiti relief efforts. The pitch is a donation of Vestex garments such as scrubs and lab coats.

As doctors, nurses and medical technicians pour into Haiti, they’re finding unsanitary conditions in makeshift hospitals erected alongside the rubble. And as body counts mount and Haiti’s infrastructure remains crippled, the spread of infectious disease will become a greater concern in the coming days and weeks. Favret and his company’s leaders figured these conditions would provide for an ideal, real-world application of their products, which are specially designed to prevent the spread of infections and disease in hospital settings.

“Our technology fits the conditions of these [volunteer aid] workers very well,” Favret said. “In this situation, it is important and it does help. If people are uncomfortable, they don’t work as well.” Materials used in the garments repel blood and other bodily fluids with a barrier Favret compared to a high-tech raincoat. The “nanotechnology” used in the garments prevents liquids and dirt from collecting on the surface.

“The overwhelming majority [of fluids] would hit and just run off, like water off a duck’s back,” he said.

A demonstration of the specially treated garments at Vestagen’s offices near downtown on Wednesday showed how fluids simply bead up on the exterior of the garments and then roll off.
Any remaining bacteria die off, thanks to a “rapidly active” anti-microbial agent that prevents such microorganisms from adapting in the environment. “It kills bacteria on contact,” Favret said. Typical scrubs are made of polyester-cotton blends on which many microorganisms can thrive.

The outfits medical workers wear, those used by their patients, hospital curtains and fabrics on furniture in hospitals are all surfaces where infectious organisms can grow, leading to hospitalacquired infections such as MRSA. “Our products can be applied to any of those,” said Favret, a 22-year veteran of the health-care industry with sales and marketing management and product launch and startup business leadership experience. He founded Vestagen just last year.

In addition, the Vestex garment products are designed to wick away sweat and help control body temperatures, another helpful factor for medical personnel working in Haiti’s balmy weather.

“Here’s an area where people are going to be very hot,” Favret said. “This will help people stay clean and dry.”

Geoff Kaufmann, American Red Cross CEO for the North Central Region, learned about the products and the company’s offer to donate garments through Vestagen’s Chief Commercial Officer Brian Crawford. Kaufmann then forwarded the idea to Red Cross officials in Washington, D.C. “I would think that any and all kinds of donations for medical workers [in Haiti] would be welcome,” Kaufmann said Wednesday. “I thought it was a great gesture. I know it has gone up the chain. It’s waiting for confirmation.”

Some stock of the Vestex garments is already available for shipping from a warehouse in Jacksonville, Crawford said. The issue would be figuring out how to get those garments into the
country. Later on, garments finished in Haiti could be used for the relief effort, too. The cutting and sewing operations located about 10 to 15 miles outside Port-au-Prince could be back online within a couple of weeks, the Vestagen officials said Favret said he has great confidence in the product, its performance and its viability in medical settings around the country. By donating the garments, Favret said his company will help protect the medical workers in Haiti and their patients and help put some of the Haitian labor force back to work finishing
the products.

And if doctors and nurses who wear the garments in Haiti report how well they work – and share that information with hospital administrators back home – Favret said that won’t be such a bad thing for Vestagen, a new company with products that promise to stay “clean, cool and dry.”

Anthony Colarossi can be reached at acolarossi@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5934.

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