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Protective eyewear is a common need between both squash and COVID-19 relief efforts. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is essential for healthcare workers operating on the front lines of the ongoing pandemic in the United States. RIA Eyewear, founded by two-time U.S. Champion Chris Hanson and former Trinity College tennis player Jordan Kemp (pictured above), recently launched their apparel line with a portion of sales going to COVID-19 relief efforts. They were further able to help by successfully repurposing their protective eyewear production samples to be donated as PPE for healthcare workers at Westchester Hospital in a hard-hit region of New York State.
Hanson and Kemp, long-time friends from the Westchester area, have been developing their eyewear business over the past two years, which specializes in designing and manufacturing high-performing eyewear for squash and pickleball. They had their sights set on launching their first eyewear line for pickleball this spring, but unfortunately while gearing up for the initial release, their production came to a halt due to the pandemic.
“We were tipped off to the seriousness of COVID-19 a little earlier than some in the U.S. because our eyewear is produced just outside of Milan, Italy, which was one of the first epicenters in Europe.” Hanson said. “We had a trip planned to go over there for MIDO, one of the biggest eyewear trade shows where we meet with our partners, which got cancelled. Pretty soon all of our factories there shut down completely, and we were told that we would just have to wait things out until they got better. In the meantime, as things started to worsen in the U.S., we started noticing fundraisers and relief efforts to get PPE for healthcare workers. Despite our eyewear being delayed, we felt that we could still launch our brand and be a part of the COVID-19 relief effort, so in early April we started selling our headbands and hats with a percentage of those sales going towards A Million Masks for NYC, which uses its funds to source PPE for the hardest hit hospitals in New York.”
RIA started their soft launch three weeks ago, and as the pandemic continued to take hold in the greater New York City area, Hanson and Kemp saw another opportunity to help the relief effort by contributing all of their production-level samples for use at Westchester Hospital.
“A week ago we started to tune in to other needs of healthcare workers, especially in our local area,” Kemp said. “We reached out to a friend at Westchester Hospital and asked them if our protective eyewear samples that Chris and other top professionals had been testing were something they could use. We were met with an emphatic yes and we quickly assembled our production samples to go to the hospital.”
As Italy slowly reopens after an extensive shut down, RIA’s manufacturer has reopened and will soon begin production on their pickleball eyewear. Included in that order will be another batch of clear protective eyewear that will be sent to another hospital in need. Additionally, starting in May the pair plan to utilize the percentage of sales earmarked for COVID-19 relief to make masks and gowns with their New York based apparel manufacturing facility, which just received FEMA approval to reopen. All masks and gowns will go directly to hospitals in need.
Hanson, ranked world No. 75, is currently quarantining in North Carolina with his fiancée’s family. The twenty-nine-year-old said he has been using the shut down as a time to train and an opportunity to be introspective, so that he can come out of the quarantine prepared and focused.
For the wider squash community, Hanson emphasizes patience as players look to return to the courts.
“You need to stay positive and think about all of the good times you’ve had on court and all of the good times we’re going to have when we’re back together, but it has to be done safely,” Hanson said. “I know it’s not easy to be patient, but in the meantime doing anything you can to keep yourself and those around you healthy is the most important thing you can do now.”
For more information and to order RIA Eyewear products visit riaeyewear.com.