MYRTLE BEACH—Donna Brin experienced the circle of life in a unique way recently when the pandemic reconnected her across 102 years to her great-grandmother … and another global pandemic.
Brin owns bFIVE40, a large format digital printing company in Little River, just outside Myrtle Beach. She employed a small staff along with her husband Daniel as production manager, and business partner Nick Borosh, their “creative genius”.
An eco-friendly company that uses recycled synthetic fibers, bFIVE40 made printed signage for events and custom apparel such as sports jerseys. When the novel coronavirus erupted, those events came to an abrupt halt.
Brin said she was really panicked about how to keep the business and her employees afloat. One day, she was talking to her Uncle Al when he casually mentioned how crazy it was that their Grandma Lily had gone through the same thing.
That would be Lillian Guidoti, who owned a sewing shop in the Bronx that employed 35 women to make dresses for Lord & Taylor. When the great influenza pandemic of 1918 hit, she had to come up with a creative solution to keep them all afloat.
“She had all these ladies working for her and she did not want that business to fail,” Brin said.
In order to save it, she pivoted to making medical gowns for area hospitals. Fast-forward to 2020: Brin said recalling that story was a lightbulb moment. She thought of the black-and-white photo she has hanging in her office that shows her great-grandmother’s shop and all the women who sewed there.
“I got chills because it was the same thing we were going through,” she said.
Inspired, she pivoted her own business to making masks and social-distancing signage, such as directional arrows and the “stand here” circles.
“It was the same thing … we were already using the print technology; switching to masks wasn’t that much of a stretch,” she said.
Brin said the Paycheck Protection Program kept them afloat until she could make the transition, and now she has so much business that her original small staff has tripled.
They donated masks to McLeod Health and created an order for her children’s school, Holy Trinity in North Myrtle Beach. Among her big-name clients is the Mike Rowe Foundation, which promotes skilled labor and the Work Ethic Scholarship Program.
Brin, who grew up in New York, said her Great-grandma Lily inspired her in other ways, too. She remembers visiting her and walking her dog, and how her great-grandmother was always giving back and sending things to the troops overseas.
Now, Brin’s business donates their print paper to the schools, and works in conjunction with S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation in her area to help provide work and jobs for people with disabilities.
bFIVE40 recently drew the attention and recognition of Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette for successfully adapting to the pandemic, focusing on sustainability, and for being “women owned”.