Minneapolis small business that pivoted to sew masks during COVID-19 endures during riots

For the last three months, Torpedo Bags in Minneapolis has been pumping out facemasks, and even when their neighborhood was burning all around them, they kept sewing.

Name any musical instrument and Torpedo likely made a bag for it. When COVID-19 put musicians out of work and forced retail stores to close, orders dried up.

By late March, Steve Kreisel took that advice, going from four employees to 40 contract sewers to fill orders for both the public sector and huge private companies.

“At our best, we were making 48,000 in 11 days and we ended up making about 150,000 masks,” Kreisel said.

Just as the pandemic was hitting its height, so were the tensions in the Minneapolis neighborhood where Torpedo Bags is based. The 19-year-old company is just blocks from the Third Precinct.

“Some of those nights, I was in my office and I heard the concussion grenades. There was a couple hundred and the rubber bullets and you could hear the screams and it was really hard to leave that night and go home and hope that you have something standing in the morning,” Kreisel said.

On three sides of them, businesses burned. And yet, they kept sewing.

“I did call the customer and say, hey, we’re going to need a couple days on that last shipment but we were here,” Kreisel said.

While he can’t simply sew the neighborhood back together again, his small part is vowing to stay.

“I love Minneapolis and I want to keep this business local and keep doing textile work,” Kreisel said.

Kreisel now has a goal of donating a mask for every dollar that comes in but because that is so under cost, he’s accepting donations to help him do that.