Press Releases

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Highmark mobilizes Pittsburgh businesses to produce over 1 million face coverings for members and community

  • Highmark collaborates with small and diverse Pittsburgh-based businesses to design and manufacture face coverings as part of its return to work and social engagement efforts, Richard King Mellon Foundation contributes $250,000 to effort

PITTSBURGH (June 10, 2020) — Highmark Inc. is joining forces with four small and diverse Pittsburgh-based businesses to design, manufacture and donate over 1 million cloth face coverings throughout the summer months. The face coverings will be distributed to at-risk and vulnerable Highmark members, community organizations in need, health care professionals, and employer groups across Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia. The initiative is yet another way Highmark is providing support to its members as workplaces begin to welcome back employees for in-person operations. 

“Highmark is dedicated to not only providing high-quality health insurance to its members, but also to building strong, healthy communities,” shared Deb Rice-Johnson, president of Highmark Health Plan. “An important aspect of that commitment involves supporting small and diverse businesses that are reflective of the members we serve. We recognize that the last several months have presented many challenges, so it’s important that we work with locally-owned businesses to further help those in our community.”

Highmark is working with four Pittsburgh-based businesses to design and manufacture the face coverings:

  • Fashion designer Kiya Tomlin, whose woman-owned and minority business enterprise (MBE) boutique and workshop is located in Etna, has created a number of unique designs that will be printed on the face coverings.  
  • CPI Creative, a woman-owned business located in Aspinwall, is manufacturing a majority of the face coverings in conjunction with international suppliers to lower overall cost and permit broader distribution.  
  • Day Owl, a Homewood-based business, will be utilizing 20 full-time equivalent positions for this project during the summer months in order to produce face coverings. Day Owl is working with East End Cooperative Ministry and Abram’s Nation to hire sewers for the project.   
  • Little Earth, a South Side-based business, will be hiring 30 to 40 people to work both remotely and in their studio to sew face coverings throughout the summer. 

The Richard King Mellon Foundation provided a $250,000 forgivable loan through Bridgeway Capital to support Day Owl and Little Earth’s efforts in the initiative. The funding will allow both small businesses to hire employees, purchase equipment and raw material, and retool manufacturing to allow for mass production of the face coverings.  

"Highmark is stepping up again to help Southwestern Pennsylvania to curtail this pandemic, and also to fuel our economic recovery — and those are our COVID-19 priorities, as well," said Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation. "This initiative is particularly gratifying because it helps to build out one of the most important components of local manufacturing: our "Maker" community. The stitchers and sewers who will manufacture these masks are talented craftspeople. They are eager to help. And they represent an under-tapped economic engine that we are always eager to fuel." 

Manufacturing will begin in June and members can anticipate receiving the face coverings through June and July. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Highmark Health Plan has taken many proactive measures through coverage expansions, increased options to access to care, support for its communities, providers and customers, and by providing resources to access help and information to ensure that our members, employees and communities are safe and can continue to receive care. Initially, Highmark expanded benefits to cover telehealth and inpatient, in-network COVID-19 treatment with no cost-sharing, and has now extended that until September 30.  

To support those affected by the pandemic, Highmark dedicated a web site ( to answer questions and provide insight to the community and launched a stream of podcasts to assist in understanding issues surrounding COVID-19. Through its provider partners such as AHN in western Pennsylvania and health systems in other communities, Highmark has actively supported COVID-19 testing, with a focus on underserved communities through mobile units. Highmark also committed $2 million in grants to food insecurity, safety net providers and COVID-19 relief organizations throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.  

About Highmark Inc.
One of America's leading health insurance organizations and an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Highmark Inc. (the Health Plan) and its affiliated health plans (collectively, the Health Plans) work passionately to deliver high-quality, accessible, understandable, and affordable experiences, outcomes, and solutions to customers. As the fourth-largest overall Blue Cross Blue Shield-affiliated organization, Highmark Inc. and its Blue-branded affiliates proudly cover the insurance needs of more than 5.6 million members in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia. Its diversified businesses serve group customer and individual needs across the United States through dental insurance and other related businesses. For more information, visit

About Kiya Tomlin 
Designer Kiya Tomlin helps busy women feel comfortable, confident and beautiful all day with her namesake line of re-imagined sweatsuits. Launched in the Fall of 2014, the KIYA TOMLIN brand unites cover girl glamor with the comfort and ease of a favorite sweatshirt. Her signature designs embody femininity, versatility, and the constant pursuit of the place where style, function and luxurious comfort intersect. Committed to quality and responsible production, each piece is designed, manufactured and sold by her small team, from start to finish in her Pittsburgh boutique and workshop.

About CPI Creative

CPI Creative, a PA-based WBE with over 26 years of experience, provides custom product design & manufacturing, promotional products, branded apparel, graphic design, and fulfillment & warehousing. The collaboration between CPI's in-house product sourcing specialists and team of graphic designers combined with a trusted/vetted network of suppliers and partners creates a cost-effective and cost-competitive model without compromising quality and design. CPI’s agility and rapid response enhances our clients’ advantage in the 21st century global economy.

About Little Earth
Founded in 1993, Little Earth Productions, based in Pittsburgh, is a leading manufacturer of licensed fashion accessories, women's apparel and pet items for professional and college teams. Little Earth has licenses for more than 170 teams including the NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS and more than 70 colleges. From purses to scarves, hair accessories and select apparel items emblazoned with team colors and logos – Little Earth’s high-quality products allow fans to bring team spirit to their everyday lives. 

About Day Owl
Day Owl and First Mile are business lines for Thread, a Delaware public benefit corporation and a certified B-Corporation headquartered in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The company was founded on the principles that dignified jobs cure poverty and that business is the primary engine for job creation.  The Thread team believes that this is universally true in places across the globe where extreme poverty is pervasive, as well as at home in distressed communities across the United States.

Since its formation, Thread has been a triple bottom line company, seeking to maximize its financial, social, and environmental impact. In 2012, after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Thread started its work to create dignified jobs in poor communities by creating “First Mile” waste reclamation chains that transform trash into responsible consumer goods. Thread first assisted in the creation of recycled polyester (plastic bottle) supply chain that starts with a network of small scale entrepreneurs in Haiti, Honduras, and Taiwan, who earn a living by collecting ocean and landfill-bound plastic waste. So far First Mile has diverted nearly 100 million plastic bottles from landfills and the ocean and directed over $3.5MM in revenue and investment into poor communities of color.

In 2018, the Thread team began using the First Mile supply chain and its programming to develop its own products. Thread calls it “Day Owl” and in February, Day Owl launched its first product, a backpack made of First Mile materials that helps its users feel ready to take on the world.  

About Richard King Mellon Foundation
Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Foundation’s 2019 endowment was $2.7 billion and its Trustees in 2019 awarded 172 grants totaling $129 million, focused on the Foundation’s strategic priorities: Education, human services, economic development, and environmental conservation.

For more information, contact: 

Emily Schaffer
Highmark Health