Two One Two New York Hosts State Senator Phil Boyle on plant tour and discussion

Two One Two New York, Inc. (212NY), a well-known and respected PPE, sweater, sweater-knit and apparel manufacturer based in Long Island, N.Y., hosted New York state Senator Phil Boyle at its state-of-the art manufacturing facility on September 9.

Senator Boyle visits 212 NY headquarters in Long Island, NY.

Principle Marisa Fumei-South and Controller Carole Schultz hosted the Senator on a tour of the company, one of the largest fully vertical, women-owned, family- operated textile manufacturers on the East Coast, which expanded its operations to produce PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite shutdowns and an economic downturn that saw many in the industry pull back and idle production.

Fumei-South said she took the opportunity to demonstrate Two One Two New York’s capabilities and capacity housed in an 85,000-square-foot facility in Edgewood, Long Island that produces up to 48,000 dozen sweaters per month.

“They were able to see the production sweaters as well as masks in process for other government contracts. They were impressed with the organization as a whole, the substantial infrastructure and the fact that are positioned to turn quickly at any given time,” she said. “They were appreciative of our dedication to domestic manufacturing, to keeping our employees working and that we’ve remained in New York for over 30 years despite the challenges we face having to compete with imports.”

“We spoke about opportunities that could be generated for Long Island as well as New York and U.S. manufacturers and their respective supply chains as well as concerns we have in regards to policy,” Fumei-South said. “We also discussed the critical and urgent support we need to sustain the robust supply chain that we created during the pandemic before it disappears and how important it is that we keep Americans working.”

Fumei-South said she is looking forward to having follow-up conversations about mandated state procurement for PPE for New York state manufactures.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai Makes First Visit to Heart of U.S. Textile Industry

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai made her first trip as the nation’s top trade chief to the Southeast in a one-day visit to two U.S. textile companies where she had a first-hand look at state-of-the-art facilities and met with industry executives.

Ambassador Tai visited Milliken & Company’s Magnolia plant in Blacksburg, S.C. and American & Efird’s plant in Mount Holly, N.C. and gained insight into the opportunities and challenges that exist for the industry.

The Ambassador participated in a Women in Textiles roundtable at Milliken and in a separate Industry Executive roundtable at A&E on September 23.

Industry leaders discussed a wide range of critical topics, ranging from the competitiveness and sustainability of the domestic industry to priority issues in Washington, the critical Western Hemisphere co-production chain, PPE, and Berry Amendment and Buy American policies.

At Milliken & Company, Ambassador Tai said in a short interview with a broadcast station, “I am so impressed by what they are making here, how they are making it under an environmental sustainability program here. I think what I’ve been most impressed by is the pride that folks here have in what they are making.

“I got to model one of the U.S. Olympic jackets just now and putting that on reminds me of the kind of pride that we feel once every four years watching the Olympics. We should feel [that kind of pride] in a company like Milliken every single day.”

Later, at an industry executive roundtable hosted by A&E, Ambassador Tai took note of North Carolina’s $2 billion in textile exports—making it the number one textile-exporting state.

“I understand the A&E Mount Holly plant exports products to 57 different countries,” she said. “As U.S. Trade Representative I am committed to helping A&E and all of your companies build on this success by finding more market opportunities…”

The Ambassador also noted that both the Milliken and A&E plants export a significant portion of their production to such U.S. trading partners as Mexico, Canada and Central America.

“The production linkage with Central America is especially important as the Biden-Harris administration works with our partners in the region to increase economic opportunity in the Northern Triangle counties of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras,” she said in opening remarks at the roundtable, noting she was eager to hear from the group of industry leaders at the roundtable about suggestions to further strengthen the co-production chain.

She also gave special recognition to the industry for making “great strides and commitments” in implementing sustainable practices and commended the entire industry for its “heroic” role in answering the call of the nation at the height of the pandemic to ramp up production of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“…Many of you in this room stepped up courageously and reconfigured your production lines to make protective equipment that was in high demand and in short supply. This quick turnaround was nothing short of heroic. And I want to personally thank you for the lives you saved and the people you protected. We do not want to be caught in the same situation twice,” she noted, adding that the Biden administration is committed to learning lessons and determining how it can be more prepared in the future.

In a separate interview with a broadcast station, Ambassador Tai also weighed in on where she sees the future of the industry moving, after hearing from women textile leaders about the significant enrollment of women at North Carolina State University’s Wilson College of Textiles.

“The women that I talked to today talked about the opportunities that they got and wanting to create more opportunities for women and a more diverse workforce. Folks here really believe that the future of this industry is female.”

Western Hemisphere and U.S. Co-Production Chain Post Significant Uptick in Two-Way Trade

The Western Hemisphere marked a significant uptick in trade in the first half of 2021, driving a 50 percent surge in U.S. apparel imports, as business rebounded following sizable decreases in textile output and trade due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The trends in the latest U.S. government data show that two-way trade between the U.S. and the region is rebounding strongly, as consumer demand for textile products continues to grow. Additionally, global sourcing shifts and pressure on China forced retailers and brands to continue diversifying and consider nearshoring more production to take advantage of the benefits of our free trade agreements (FTAs) in the region.

Please note that the government trade data for the first half of 2021 provides a comparison to the first half of 2020, a year that is considered an anomaly due to the impact of the pandemic. However, the latest data indicates that trade is on track to match and/or exceed 2019 trade figures.

For the year to date through June, apparel imports from the Western Hemisphere (largely comprised of U.S. textile components) jumped 50 percent to $6.4 billion compared with the same period in 2020, according to new data from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA).

On a year-ending basis through June, the Western Hemisphere controlled a 17.4 percent share of the U.S. apparel import market, an increase of 7.4 percent.

While the rebound is in large part a function of the market bouncing back from the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also a reflection of larger sourcing shifts occurring as brands and retailers continue to diversify out of China, which is facing pressures on several fronts.

Most notably, the trade data indicates that China is likely feeling the impact of the imposition of 301 tariffs on the majority of finished Chinese apparel imports, as well as the recent U.S. ban on cotton products from the Xinjiang region of China, following widespread reports of the egregious abuse of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities and the use of forced labor to produce consumer goods for Western brands.

While apparel and textile imports from China also rose in the first half of the year, the country lost import market share in the U.S.

For the year ending June 30, China had a 23.3 percent share of the U.S. apparel import market, a decline of 13.8% compared to the year-ago period. Its U.S. import share of total textiles and apparel stood at 28%, a decline of 2.8 percent.

A diversification in global sourcing trends has contributed to nearshoring and an increase in orders for Western Hemisphere trading partners.

These positive trends are extremely important for the U.S. textile industry, which has invested heavily in the region and has seen its exports to the region increase significantly, especially under two critical free trade agreements–the U.S. Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USCMA) and the Central America Free Trade Agreement-Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR).

“The U.S. trade data indicates a strong rebound in the Western Hemisphere, which is gaining U.S. import market share,” said NCTO President and CEO Kim Glas. “I expect this trend to continue through the remainder of this year as retailers and brands seek to nearshore more of their production.

Built on the strength of reciprocal, negotiated FTAs, the Western Hemisphere’s textile supply chain is a vital economic driver for the whole region. Fiber, yarn, and fabric products, and their various associated textile and apparel related end-products, support almost $35 billion in annual two-way trade and more than 2 million direct jobs throughout the hemisphere,” she noted.

Textile mill product exports to the Western Hemisphere rose 27 percent to $5.8 billion for the year to date, compared to a year ago, while exports to the CAFTA-DR countries rose 42 percent and exports to the USCMA countries increased 24%.

On a more granular level, U.S. yarn exports alone to CAFTA-DR jumped 70 percent year over year, while U.S. fabric exports to USMCA increased 29 percent.

Five of the six CAFTA-DR countries posted double-digit increases in apparel imports in the first half of the year, compared with the first half of 2020,

including: Honduras, with a 78 percent increase to $1.2 billion; El Salvador,  an 85 percent increase to $850 million; Guatemala, a 40 percent increase to $753 million, the Dominican Republic, a 52 percent increase to $251 million; and Nicaragua, a 43 percent increase to $864 million.

Total textile and apparel imports from Mexico rose 31.36 percent to $2 billion, while imports from Canada rose 15 percent to $522 million.

Based on the upward trend in imports from the Western Hemisphere, Glas said she is optimistic about the future of the co-production chain in the Western Hemisphere.

She attributed the strength of the partnership to the reciprocal FTAs in the region. “A yarn forward rule in both CAFTA-DR and USMCA ensures that the benefits of the FTA are reserved for manufacturers who actually produce textiles and apparel in the FTA region, as well as strong labor and environmental obligations and commitments embedded in the agreement,” she said.

“We are on track to hit and potentially surpass the two-way trade flows with the Western Hemisphere that we saw in 2019—before the pandemic hit,” Glas said. “We will continue to press this administration and our allies in Congress to maintain policies that allow this co-production chain to flourish.”

 

 

Glen Raven Invests $82 Million in Norlina, N.C. Operations; Creates 205 new Jobs

As part of a multi-phase $250 million capacity expansion plan, Glen Raven, Inc., a leading provider of innovative performance textiles, which includes such well-known brands as Sunbrella® and Dickson® in its portfolio, will create 205 new jobs as it expands its Custom Fabrics operations in Norlina, North Carolina.

N.C. Governor Roy Cooper announced the significant expansion, in a press release, which stated the company will invest up to $82 million in Norlina.

“Companies that already do business in rural North Carolina know the advantages of communities like Warren County,” said Governor Cooper. “Glen Raven’s experience here provides the confidence they need that our workforce, transportation systems and business climate will best support this next phase of growth for their company.”

“Ever since Glen Raven was founded in the great state of North Carolina in 1880, we’ve invested in our communities and have celebrated many accomplishments together,” said Leib Oehmig, chief executive officer at Glen Raven, Inc. “We look forward to building on this legacy as we further grow and strengthen both Warren County and Glen Raven for the future.”

The company said it will invest in a new spun-yarn plant co-located with an existing facility in Norlina to “increase production output by more than double” the current capacity in an additional 315,000 square feet, in a press release.

A performance-based grant of $1 million from the One North Carolina Fund will help facilitate Glen Raven Custom Fabrics’ expansion in Warren County, the governor’s office said. The OneNC Fund provides financial assistance to local governments to help attract economic investment and to create jobs. Companies receive no money upfront and must meet job creation and capital investment targets to qualify for payment. All OneNC grants require a matching grant from local governments and any award is contingent upon that condition being met.

Glen Raven said it is expanding capacity to “meet record demand for its Sunbrella performance fabrics, in the next round of its investments in facilities and infrastructure.

“These investments represent phase two of a multi-phase expansion plan and are specifically focused on growing Glen Raven’s U.S. capacity,” the company said.

The investments include additional production facilities and a new distribution center in the U.S., as well as additional equipment to increase output levels for Glen Raven’s Custom Fabrics division, which includes Sunbrella fabrics.

Glen Raven’s phase two investments are part of an overall goal of expanding production at “all levels, from yarn to finished fabric,” the company said. Phrase three planning is underway.

The total of all three phases amounts to $250 million in investments and will increase the company’s production capabilities by more than 30 percent, in addition to creating over 400 additional jobs across the country.

“As with many other industries, we’ve continued to battle unforeseen supply chain disruptions and raw material shortages,” said Dave Swers, president of Glen Raven Custom Fabrics. “We’re producing more Sunbrella fabric than ever before and are committed to investing a quarter of a billion dollars in our operations to support our customers in the long term. We’re doing everything possible to better meet their expectations today and return to the service levels that have defined our reputation in the industry for decades.”

Swers noted that Glen Raven remains “resilient and determined to implement strategic initiatives that will make a positive and lasting impact for our customers, employees and the textile industry as a whole.”

Founded in 1880, Glen Raven, Inc. is a family-owned company with a portfolio of global businesses built around category-leading brands. The company has three divisions: Glen Raven Custom Fabrics with flagship brands Sunbrella® and Dickson®; Glen Raven Technical Fabrics with GlenGuard®, Strata™ and Glen Raven Logistics®; and Trivantage®, one of the nation’s largest business-to-business distributors for the awning, marine, upholstery and shade sail industries. Glen Raven, Inc. is a leader in the upholstery, marine, technical shading, automotive, military, geotextile, and protective work wear markets and operates national distribution and logistics subsidiaries.

Two One Two New York, Inc.: An American Women-owned Apparel Manufacturer with Staying Power

Two One Two New York, Inc. (212NY), a well-known and respected sweater-and sweater-knit apparel manufacturer based in Long Island, N.Y., has maintained and grown its presence manufacturing exclusively in the United States, even as a large swath of the industry moved offshore over the past two decades.

The company, one of the largest fully vertical, women-owned, family operated textile manufacturers on the East Coast, expanded its operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite shutdowns and an economic downturn that saw many in the industry pull back and idle production.

Principles, Marisa Fumei-South and Josephine Marini, bring over 35 years of industry expertise servicing many major U.S. retailers and brands as a U.S. design and manufacturing partner.

Originally based in Queens, N.Y. for over 25 years, 212NY built its apparel business by remaining an invaluable and competitive resource, providing ingenuity, designs, production efficiencies and speed as well as a capacity to produce 48,000 dozen sweaters per month.

Two One Two New York Headquarters in Long Island, NY

Six years ago, the company implemented a long-awaited plan to expand and modernize its facility to better service long-term retail partners.  This path took them, along with their devoted employees, from Glendale, Queens to Edgewood, Long Island where they relocated to an 85,000-square-foot facility.

“Treating this as a blank slate, we built a fully modern and open environment, expanded our capabilities and capacity, layering on additional equipment and bringing other processes typically outsourced, in house,” said Fumei-South.

212NY made the final transition to Long Island two and a half years ago, moving their 4,000-square-foot Manhattan showroom into the Edgewood facility, allowing for seamless communication and greater efficiency, while providing full-service one-stop shopping from design to delivery.

Then the pandemic hit.

At the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, Fumei-South saidevery retailer cancelled every order, regardless of the production status and held up every payment– essentially bringing cash flow to an abrupt halt.” The same week then-Governor Andrew Cuomo shuttered all non-essential business.

Having a deep allegiance to their dedicated employees and a sense of responsibility to help the cause here at home, Fumei-South and Marini, along with key technicians, programmers and management, stayed in their facility and never left.

Two One Two New York’s Production Facility

“Without hesitation, we put our heads together, made the necessary investments, and within a week and a half, we successfully pivoted to produce personal protective equipment (PPE), beginning with technically knit-2-shape sustainable face masks. We were immediately selected as the New York manufacturer to participate in the FEMA mask contract award and also landed multiple contracts with local municipalities, national utility companies, schools, local businesses, banks and grocery chains, Fumei-South said.

Along with loyal supply chain partners and a network of exclusive sub-contractors, 212NY took the next step and expanded fully into the PPE world, producing reusable/sustainable face masks and isolation gowns, disposable isolation gowns, bouffants, booties and other items for frontline workers, nursing homes, healthcare workers, and doctor and dental offices.

Today, 212NY has the overall capacity to produce 4 million face masks per week and between 750,000 to 1 million gowns per week, depending on the model and level.

Most recently 212NY was selected as a key subcontractor by Parkdale Mills on the “Biden Warp Speed Mask” contract and is currently working on several military mask and apparel contracts, in addition to its commercial PPE business.

“Through hard work, perseverance, resourcefulness, ingenuity and sheer determination, the development and production of PPE has evolved to be a permanent arm of 212NY,” she said.

The company now employs over 400 people within the New York area, both directly and indirectly.   

As for the state of Retail, Fumei-South is not as bullish at the moment.

Two One Two New York’s Showroom

Although retailers are back for the most part, unfortunately most feel no allegiance to support their domestic manufacturing partners,” she said. “After all that has happened they continue to place orders offshore, regardless of the shipping delays and increased container costs. Many look to their U.S. resources for opportunistic buys rather than making long-term commitments to do their part to sustain a robust U.S. supply chain. We would love nothing better than to bring visibility to those that take the stand to support U.S. manufacturers.”

 

 

TWO ONE TWO NEW YORK, INC.

Click to view a video of the 212NY textile facility.

                                            

Precision Fabrics Group Staying the Course in a Turbulent Economy

Precision Fabrics Group is staying the course and registering positive growth in key business segments, as it navigates the myriad challenges in the industrial textiles sector, beset by domestic and global supply chain disruptions, rising commodity prices and labor shortages in today’s pandemic-impacted economy.

Headquartered in Greensboro, N.C., Precision Fabrics Group—a new NCTO member–is an engineered materials business focused on highly technical, high-quality woven and nonwoven materials.

The company’s diverse portfolio represents a prime example of the U.S. textile industry’s innovative contribution and importance to the economic backbone of the U.S. economy.

Its core business is in industrial fabrics, centered around sophisticated weaving technologies and finishing chemistries for performance fabrics aimed at high-tech markets. The company specializes in designing fabric constructions for coating and laminating substrates, process and cure liners and other industrial applications.

In a testament to the company’s innovative might, Precision’s fabrics are also used in protective apparel, surgical garments, therapeutic bedding and aerospace safety equipment.

It has produced thousands of yards of fabric used to filter contaminated water in Guinea to help eradicate worm disease and also provided the woven release fabric used in the construction of emergency escape chutes, which were used in the 2009 emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York City.

Precision Fabrics Group was created in 1988 in a leveraged buyout from Burlington Industries, and continues today as a privately held company, employing approximately 600 associates and operates plants in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.

In an interview, Byron Bassett, corporate vice president of Precision Fabrics, outlined the impact of the pandemic, and the ongoing challenges the company is facing and overcoming in a turbulent economy that is on the rebound but is still uneven due to new rising coronavirus cases associated with the Delta variant.

“The last two years have been the most uncertain that I have experienced in my 34- year career. There have been other times where the economy took a little dive and short term dip, but this one seems to be so protracted and the recovery so uncertain,” Bassett said. “It seems as if the economy has had more elasticity in years past.”

“We’re involved in the industrial sector and there is large portion of that industrial sector that essentially became a fraction of what it was pre-Covid– almost overnight at the onset of the pandemic last year. The sector is coming back now but the process of recovery is going to be a slow one in some areas,” he added.

The industrial textile sector, like all other segments of the U.S. textile industry, was impacted by shutdowns and economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, but according to research highlighted in this summary of IFAI’s 2021 State of the Industry report, the outlook for the industry is positive.

“Collectively, companies in the industry…have positive expectations for their future. Some 62% expect their revenues to increase while only 5% expect a decrease (one-third are not sure),” IFAI said. “Overall, respondents expect an average increase of 8.5% in annual revenues over the next two years. Organizations serving the hospitality markets anticipate the highest increase in revenues (10%). Those serving manufacturing and agriculture anticipate slightly lower-than-average revenues.”

The research is based on findings from more than 300 members of the industrial fabrics community, gathered through an online survey fielded January–March 2021 that asked organizations about their businesses pre-pandemic (2019) and during the pandemic (2020), as well as their outlook for the future, according to IFAI.

Bassett said Precision Fabrics shares that optimism, having registered growth in the first half of this year, but warned there are headwinds slowing down the recovery.

 

SUPPLY CHAIN ISSUES DOMESTICALLY AND GLOBALLY

“We’re still waiting for yarns to run our looms. We’ve got 10 percent or 15 percent of our production capacity that has been hampered by [shortages] of raw materials. So on top of all of the other things, we are struggling to meet delivery schedules, which is a pretty common thing—as a result of these supply chain issues,” Bassett said.

He noted that supply chain problems downstream and upstream are impacting business and said domestic yarn manufacturers, non-woven produces and chemical companies across the board are having difficulty procuring polymers, necessary to run supply raw materials, as well as shortages in manpower to run them.

“There is a myriad of reasons that are hard to put together. We had a terrible winter down in the Gulf, which impacted the petrochemical based stocks. We had plant shutdowns because of COVID that reduced production outputs. There has been a lot of competition for commodities,” Bassett said.

“As our order books have strengthened over the last 6 months, priming the pump has been difficult, as a result.”

Another challenge causing supply chain disruptions has to do with the sheer magnitude of the effort necessary to ramp back up industries, many of which were temporarily shuttered for several months, particularly in the U.S. petrochemical industry, which supplies the majority of polymers to the textile industry.

Upstream manufacturers are also facing severe supply chain delays and issues.

For example, the automotive industry is a strong business segment for Precision, which makes nonwoven acoustic fabrics for the interior of vehicles to address sound absorption.

While consumer demand is high for new cars, an ongoing computer chip shortage, has severely impacted the production of new automobiles.

“The automotive business is a really good example where secondary or tertiary level supply chains are impacting every other tier of suppliers,” Bassett said. “They are saying this chip shortage will last into next year. Then we expect a surge because of pent- up demand. This turbulence is going to continue. How do you take a manufacturing process and ramp up from 30 percent of historical production volume to 130 percent of historical production volume? How do you forecast that?”

Rising raw material prices and freight surcharges on imported inputs are also putting pressure on margins.

“Raw materials are increasing in price; the cost of freight particularly sea freight is at all-time highs and some suppliers are implementing surcharges on components made from feed stocks that are on allocation.  The combination of these factors require PFG and other companies to rethink their strategies as the demand in the market improves, Bassett said.

 

WOKFORCE ISSUES—LABOR SHORTAGES

As business continues to come back online, NCTO member companies are facing one of the more dire labor shortage environments in history, in line with every other major industrial, retail and transportation sector across the country.

The textile industry was recently listed as one of seven industries “most desperate for workers,” by the Washington Post.

Shortages are so acute that manufacturers have had to turn down contracts from businesses, including those that want to make their goods here in America.

“From my perspective, there has been a change in our culture, a change in how people view themselves relative to companies themselves and what they see as their part in it,” Bassett said. “We are going to have to find some creative ways to keep people engaged, particularly in manufacturing. I don’t think young people graduating from college today are thinking: ‘If I could only get into manufacturing and work for 45 years, I’d have a great career.’”

Bassett said the labor shortages are also driven by a generational gap and retiring Baby Boomers.

“We’ve got Baby Boomers that have worked in manufacturing for 40 years and are looking forward to retirement. A lot of those folks have worked with us for a very long time and we’ve relied on them. Filling those jobs over the next 5-10 years is a key focus. That is the essence of where we are going as a manufacturing company—we are going to have to figure out how to replace that know-how.”

 

IMPORTS AND RESHORING 

Bassett said there continues to be price pressure from imports, particularly on lower-cost fabrics.

“There are situations where import prices are below our material costs. Some countries see it as a huge opportunity to take a long-term approach and dominate our markets. They have easy access to our market and are willing to invest in the those markets in the short run at lower margins to try choke out the domestic supply base,” he said.

The domestic industry is fully aware of the cost of producing polymers and can easily identify when imported textile components are imported into the U.S. market at below-market prices.

“We’ve seen countries support their industries and I just think there are a lot of reasons for our federal government to make it a strategy to rebuild the U.S. textile industry,” he said. “I don’t think we will make T-shirts here but we need a thriving textile industry in this country as part of an overall, nationwide manufacturing strategy. We are part of what needs to be here for the long run.”

He added that he is seeing a willingness on the part of Precision Fabric’s customers to reshore.

But he cautioned that in some segments such as personal protective equipment (PPE), “memories are quite short and people have reverted back to imports.”

He said foreign suppliers often try to combat reshoring by offering even lower prices as an incentive lure companies back offshore.

 

OUTLOOK

Despite the challenges and other headwinds, Bassett said on balance Precision Fabrics is seeing an increase in orders and business is coming back. 

“We’ve absorbed extra costs when things were leaner last year, and as we are digging out, we have tried to maintain as much continuity as we possibly can. We think that’s good for everybody in the long run,” he said. “It has been our philosophy to stay the course. We’ve got a lot of loyalty in our workforce and recognize that we’ve got skills in our manufacturing operations that would be difficult to replace once lost. It is important that we keep those associates working so that we are prepared to handle the volume when the market rebounds.”

The sectors related to “heavy industry” such as construction, aerospace and even automotive, despite ongoing supply chain issues, are areas where the business is coming back, he said.

Finally, Bassett said the industrial textile segment is “probably the one category in which we can survive as a domestic manufacturer.”

“Low-cost commodity fabrics or consumer items cannot be our focus. We have to continue innovating and take on the most technically challenging applications in our industry. Once something becomes commoditized, we need to replace that business with an innovative product, one that is more financially sustainable.  It is that kind of strategy that will provide a real future for the American textile industry.”

From Runway Gowns to Medical Gowns—Goldatech is Making a Difference

As the disturbing scenes of healthcare workers wearing garbage bags in place of proper protective equipment splashed across the headlines at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, a trio of women—more accustomed to designing haute couture gowns for fashion runways than isolation gowns for frontline workers in hospitals—formulated a plan.

Furloughed from their design jobs at Oscar de la Renta in New York’s Garment District, they answered the public call for assistance from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who urged New York designers and manufacturers to come up with creative solutions for lifesaving personal protective equipment, or PPE, to help protect healthcare workers fighting the pandemic.

Together, the three fashion designers, with more than 40 years of combined experience in luxury apparel development, sprang into action.

After consulting with healthcare professionals and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), they reached out to the strong local manufacturing network and diverse industry relationships they had built over the years with New York factories and began designing prototypes of isolation gowns.

“Within a week we pooled our resources and made our first batch of 300 gowns to donate [to local, underserved hospitals] under our non-profit organization—Garment District for Gowns,” said Rachel Rothenberg-Saenz, co-founder and CEO of the non-profit. She is also CEO of Goldatech, a separate company founded by the three women that is FDA-registered and minority-owned and women-owned certified.

Rothenberg-Saenz co-owns the organization with two of her former design team colleagues at Oscar de la Renta—Alexandra Baylis, chief operating officer of Goldatech, and Amy Tiefermann, chief product officer.

A new member of NCTO, Goldatech’s journey and story is emblematic of the U.S. textile industry’s herculean effort to retool production lines and stand up a virtually non-existent domestic supply chain for critical PPE items in this nation’s time of need.

It also underscores the urgent need for state and federal policymakers to craft robust policies to help onshore PPE supply chains, create a permanent domestic supply chain, and support a nascent domestic industry that has exhibited its innovative strength to provide more than 1 billion PPE items.

 

Building an American Medical Gown Supply Chain

To fund their endeavor, the Goldatech team initially raised $70,000 through a GoFundMe fundraiser, funneling 100 percent of the funding back into manufacturing and donating gowns.

They won a state grant—the first applicant out of a total of 33,000—to be awarded New York State’s Empire State Development (ESD) COVID-19 Retooling Grant, to “establish a NY-based PPE supply chain and get medical gowns into the hands of healthcare workers,” Rothenberg-Saenz said.

“The main objectives behind this grant were to create jobs and bring back furloughed employees, expand our business beyond the immediate needs of the COVID-19 pandemic, build a robust local supply chain and grow the production of American-made PPE,” she added.

With a team of just five people, the company has used the grant to facilitate the manufacturing of isolation gowns, supporting and investing in a network of subcontractors who were facing closures as a result of the pandemic. With an intimate knowledge of the capabilities of New York’s Garment District, they were able to meet and exceed demand for these critical supplies.

The efforts have supported the rehiring of 1,200 previously furloughed workers across the country, including fabric mill, manufacturing and logistics personnel. In addition, many of the subcontractors have also invested money into new machinery to support the ramp up.

“The majority of the subcontractors under our umbrella were previously manufacturing high-end fashion, and all were happy to pivot,” Rothenberg-Saenz reflected, citing one example of a subcontractor who they are partnering with now, who has a history of manufacturing for Ralph Lauren’s Collection (including for the American Olympic team), Donna Karan, and The Row, among others.

“At the beginning it was rapid self-educating, phone calls with the FDA, CDC, AAMI, and keeping up to date with evolving policy. Having never been subjected to meeting FDA standards, we were rigorous in third party testing and ultimately able to ensure the utmost compliance,” she added. “Many of our subcontractors now have the opportunity to slightly shift back into manufacturing fashion, however would rather stay producing PPE.”

Goldatech’s manufacturing capabilities are currently 7 million units of reusable and disposable gowns per month.

Baylis said the team has connected with the majority of USA textile companies making both wovens and nonwovens and has established a family group of manufacturers that they are working closely with to develop new products.

Goldatech designs and develops the gowns, adhering to the strict FDA standards and AAMI levels, and oversees production, securing and sourcing raw materials and coordinating with the entire production chain.

“We work directly with each mill within our network, facilitating orders, freight and logistics to our New York facilities. We are heavily involved in every step of the process, including raw material (fiber) procurement in some cases.” Baylis said.

The company also gives a percentage back to the non-profit Garment District for Gowns and continues to donate to underserved communities across the country. To date they have donated 22,000 reusable gowns to over 51 hospital networks across the country.

“Together with the help of the state, we were able to bring factory workers back, particularly in the garment district, which we view as a national treasure, and help keep many of these factories from shuttering their doors,” Rothenberg-Saenz said.

Goldatech has fulfilled high-volume contracts for New York state—rebuilding its stockpile—New York City’s Department of Health, the Arizona Department of Public Health and other government entities.

 

Sustainability and Innovation

One of Goldatech’s primary goals is to help mitigate the environmental impact of PPE manufacturing.

To that end, all materials and manufacturing are sourced in the United States and the company partners with industry leaders to “implement a strong domestic supply chain in PPE manufacturing.”

“We are very passionate about reusable gowns as a more sustainable option for the environment,” Rothenberg-Saenz said. “We want to make it easy for hospitals to make the switch, so we developed a straightforward app that goes along with our reusable gowns. Historically, they had a tag with a printed grid that you would manually tick off for each wash.”

“It [the app] digitally records and tracks the lifespan of our gowns. It is built into a back-office software, to monitor inventory levels.  For example, once inventory reaches 90 percent of its lifecycle, the customer can automatically reorder gowns to keep the process seamless.”

She said the demand for reusable gowns is growing slightly and she believes it will continue to grow. “The cost per use is lower than disposable gowns.  These facilities are stuck in old habits, but they should understand there’s a cheaper, bigger-picture option here.”

 

Challenges—Competing Against China on PPE

Goldatech faces challenges associated with China’s dominance in PPE production and imports of low-cost medical products.

According to PPE trade data now being tracked and reported by the Department of Commerce Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA), U.S. imports of PPE grew from $4.8 billion in 2019 to $20.4 billion in 2020, an increase of 325 percent. Imports from China specifically jumped from $1.6 to $13.7 billion, up 756 percent to capture a two-thirds share of the U.S. PPE import market in 2020.

As NCTO has testified, China’s PPE sector has clearly benefited from state planning and predatory trade practices. Its “Made in China 2025” industrial policies were designed to nationalize and corner market share for these products.

“It’s definitely a challenge to meet their prices as we know the Chinese government subsidizes up to 70 percent of the cost of the PPE manufacturing,” Rothenberg-Saenz said. “It is hard to compete when imported products are being sold below cost. As manufacturers ramp up and reach new efficiencies, the USA industry becomes more competitive. Further commitment and investment from Capitol Hill would bolster these efforts.  We have a strong infrastructure across the country, and we are all intent on getting through this battle and convincing procurement teams to purchase American-made PPE.”

 

Long-Term Contracts: Push to Build a Permanent Domestic PPE Supply Chain

“[NCTO President & CEO] Kim Glas has been working on so many important issues in Washington to support the PPE supply chain and it starts with long-term contracts,” said Rothenberg-Saenz.

“There has to be a robust domestic supply chain in place,” said Baylis.  “Without fully supporting the manufacturers who have pivoted to making this product, should these events happen again, it is a security issue for the United States. Legislation needs to swiftly be put into place to ensure the significant investment and retooling that occurred during the pandemic was not in vain.”

In May, Glas testified at the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on the medical supply chain and outlined a series of policy recommendations to incentivize the establishment of a permanent domestic supply chain.

Among the recommendations she highlighted were: creating strong domestic procurement rules for federal PPE purchases and other essential products—substantially similar to the Berry Amendment and the Kissell Amendment which requires 100 percent U.S. content from fiber production forward; implementing long-term contracts to incentivize investment in the domestic PPE manufacturing base; and creating federal incentives for private sector hospitals and large provider networks to purchase American-made PPE.

Glas said the time is “ripe for a revival of American PPE textile manufacturing. It has already begun but we are at a pivotal time. Without the necessary policy response and support, our recent progress will be undone just as quickly, and China’s stranglehold over global medical textile supply will be locked in for the foreseeable future with no reason to invest here. However, with the right policy framework, the domestic PPE supply chains built overnight can endure and grow, creating a level of self-sufficiency domestically that we have learned the hard way is essential to our national health and economic security.”

Her full testimony can be found here.

“We will always have American innovation, but American manufacturing facilities are not guaranteed unless we continue to support them, especially through legislation,” Rothenberg-Saenz said.

 

Goldatech Banks on the Future

The company’s long-term goal is to manufacture its own line of sustainable and innovative performance health wear.

“We definitely want to continue manufacturing PPE. We are optimistic that there will be a future here, but we also plan to expand our PPE portfolio. We’re developing a new line which will merge molecular fabric science with expert tailoring,” Rothenberg-Saenz said.

She cited recent statistics showing the healthcare industry is expected to grow 49 percent by 2028.

“We are hoping to set a new standard in biodegradable products, especially with durable scrubs that would decompose in up to three years, which is a stark contrast to the current standard of up to 200 years, ” she added.

Asked if she missed designing for the fashion world:

“There are many similarities in that we’re on the shop floor, problem-solving and innovating new apparel products. That said, we are intensely more passionate about this new direction, and find it to be meaningful,” she said.  “The biggest difference is in the end use of the garment; this one of course being built to protect its wearer from exposure to infection. The magnitude of the situation and sense of responsibility we feel to keep healthcare workers safe has fueled our passion and purpose.”

“The pandemic exposed the profound fragility in our country [to supply PPE] and we have a chance to rectify it now.”

NY Presbyterian in Goldatech Reusable Gowns

NCTO President & CEO Testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee examined key issues related to U.S. medical supply chain vulnerabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, the nation’s overreliance on foreign sources for critical medical supplies, “gaps” in the federal government’s response and policy recommendations, at a hearing Wednesday. NCTO President and CEO Kim Glas participated as an industry representative and expert on a panel of medical and supply chain witnesses.

NCTO President & CEO Kim Glas on the expert witness panel

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Gary Peters (D-MI) and Ranking Member Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) opened the hearing. Both senators raised concern about the country’s lack of preparedness in the face of a once-in-a-generation a health crisis that sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin.

The full text of their opening statements can be accessed here: Senator Peters’ Opening Statement and Senator Portman’s Opening Statement.

“Despite years of warnings about the dangers of our nation’s overreliance on foreign sources and manufacturers for critical medical supplies, our nation was still unprepared to acquire the masks, gloves, gowns and ventilators needed to treat the significant number of COVID patients, stop the spread, and save lives,” said Senator Peters in his opening statement. “…The federal government should have taken early action to ramp up production of personal protective equipment, and other critical medical supplies, by issuing emergency contracts or fully invoking the Defense Production Act.”

Senator Portman said in his opening statement: “It became apparent that by the time the virus reached our shores, there was little we could do to prevent the shortages of critical supplies. The spike in demand for medical supplies was too high, the production of those supplies too far away, and too centralized in places hit hard by the virus. At the same time, the Strategic National Stockpile was underprepared.”

Portman outlined three broad questions for witnesses: “First, what steps should the United States take to reduce overreliance on foreign countries for critical medical supplies? We need to understand how to diversify supply chains away from China, reshoring manufacturing to the United States, and incentivizing production in the Western Hemisphere.”

NCTO President & CEO Kim Glas prepares to give her testimony before HSGAC

In her opening remarks, NCTO President & CEO Kim Glas said:

“The U.S. textile industry stepped in to fill an enormous void, producing over a billion critical PPE items such as face masks, isolation gowns and testing kit swabs for frontline healthcare workers.”

But a “strong overreliance on Chinese raw materials and finished PPE production chains exposed a severe fragility in these supply chains and posed a significant national security threat,” Glas said, adding that years of offshoring also contributed to the crisis and had “severe ramifications.”

“I come before you today with an urgent plea,” Glas said. “We must get critical policies over the finish line immediately or the very supply chains that were retooled and reconstructed will remain fragile and largely offshore,” adding that China has exponentially expanded its global dominance of PPE production.

For her full written testimony and policy recommendations please see the link here.

Another witness, Shereef Elnahal, M.D., President and CEO of University Hospital in  Newark, New Jersey, outlined the magnitude of the emergency room visits, 83,000 in total, last year and the hospital’s lack of preparedness to “address the surge of patients.”

“As the number of COVID cases in our emergency rooms and intensive care units doubled, tripled and quadrupled, we found ourselves at risk of running out of supplies for which we have never seen shortages before,” he said in opening remarks. “This includes protective equipment for our staff, and ventilators for the patients with the most severe cases of COVID-19.”

Senator Portman had a lengthy Q&A with Glas following introductory remarks.

“One of the things that we’ve talked about today and we’re trying to figure out is how to make more PPE here, but use market forces to do it, so it makes sense,” Portman said. “And, we have manufacturers here in this country who are willing to make stuff, but they need to know they’ve got a market. And if they don’t, they can’t make the significant investments, millions of dollars, to be able to convert their plants,” Portman said.

“This has particularly been tough on the textile industry, and Ms. Glas, I want to thank you for being here but also your hard work and support of the Make PPE in America Act, which you mentioned we introduced and was passed in the Committee just last week,” Portman noted.

The senator also asked Glas why long-term contracts are an effective way to spur market forces to incentivize production in the U.S.

“It provides a critical demand signal for our industry that there will be a purchaser and that they can invest in the new equipment necessary,” Glas said. We have Ohio manufacturers….who have looked at trying to invest more here in the United States, but they won’t without a strong demand signal,” she said, adding that other countries, like Canada, are issuing long-term contracts to their manufacturers to bolster production.

For more on their exchange, please see the a link to the transcript provided by the committee here.

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) asked Glas about the offshoring of the U.S. textile industry and the role trade policy played in it.

Glas pointed to several key trade decisions, including the accession of China to the World Trade Organization and the removal of quotes on textile and apparel imports, as key drivers behind offshoring.

“This played out on a national stage when COVID hit,” Glas said. “How many US textile manufacturers did I represent making PPE [before the pandemic?] Probably two or three. What happened during the pandemic? About 140 companies of mine retooled their production chains to help fight the crisis and now a lot of those companies simply have no orders.”

That has been compounded by an onslaught of Chinese PPE imports, which have increased 756 percent in the past year and are often dumped on the U.S. market below cost, she noted.

“We have a U.S. industry that has invested and who want to make products here but with no long-term demand signal by the federal government. And we have not solved the equation of how to get hospitals and nursing home to purchase products that are made here in the United states.”

Hawley asked Glas to explain why the “deck is still stacked” against the textile industry today.

Glas touched on the unfair playing field in competing against China, which has a long history of human rights abuse and has more recently been accused of “genocide” by U.S. officials, and imprisoning Uyghur Muslim minorities in detention camps and forcing them to make consumer products, including apparel and textiles, for global brands.

“It is hard to compete globally with subsidized industries all over the world including China. We have domestic manufacturers who can be globally competitive. We just need to send them a strong demand signal and we need to get policies over the finish line here in Congress to make sure we can be more globally competitive,” Glas said.

She stressed that it will take a “whole of government approach to trade enforcement” to address the imbalance in our trade policy as it relates to PPE textile products.

Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) said he never again wants to see the images of nurses sewing their own face masks and donning garbage bags as gowns that played out at a local hospital in Georgia during the pandemic.

He asked Glas if the government and country have taken the necessary steps since those early months of the crisis to ensure frontline workers never have to resort to homemade PPE again.

Glas said that while our industry was able to retool and invest in critical PPE, she is concerned that in a few months from now, those domestic supply chains will go offshore again, without long-term funding from the Defense Production Act.

“We are going to need to diversify supply chains moving forward. We need to show a demand signal to the industry,” she noted. “There needs to be incentives for hospitals like the one you have that want to purchase MADE in USA product that costs a little bit more. And there are a lot of Georgia textile manufacturers that want to respond to your local hospital systems and make these products long-term.”

The entire hearing can be viewed at the link here.

 

Glen Raven and Trivantage Customers Making an Impact on PPE Production

American small businesses, entrepreneurs and inventors, driven by the desire to contribute to the greater good of the country, are stepping up to produce personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face shields and gowns, for frontline health care workers battling the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

On several fronts, the U.S. textile industry has united to play a critical role in the production of PPE products for the nation.

One North Carolina textile company, Glen Raven Inc., has become a major player behind the scenes, working with its customer base who traditionally cut and sew products such as awnings, tents, furniture and cushions– to scale up production of highly needed face shields and gowns.

The 140-year-old performance fabric manufacturer with six manufacturing facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Pennsylvania, along with 12 distribution facilities in 11 states, has stepped into the PPE game and is having a major impact.

Glen Raven has participated in discussions between hospital groups and health care organizations and its customers, while also organizing frequent calls to discuss bests practices, materials, suppliers, and the best ways to get the product to market.

Companies like Hoover Architectural Products in Florida, Chair Care Patio in Texas and Rainier Ltd. in Washington state are just a few of its customers that have tapped their talented workforce to innovate and create new designs for PPE products for their local hospitals, health care workers and communities.

“This effort has been a collective undertaking among all of Glen Raven’s business units. From day one, our entire company has been laser-focused on collaborating with organizations like the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), and healthcare systems across the country to help identify Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) needs.  The ultimate goal was to identify, engage and leverage the capabilities of our industry in an effort to supplement demand for critical PPE products,” said Bret Kelley, vice president of sales, Trivantage.  “Together we are more powerful, and through collaboration with healthcare agencies, hospitals, our customers, suppliers, and other groups we are able to make a greater impact. Through our collective efforts, we hope to help keep first responders, and front-line workers safe and assist our customers in putting people back to work.  We are hopeful this process will result in sustainable longer-term benefits for the healthcare industry and our industry by developing a more robust domestic supply base for PPE.”

While there are many stories, five Glen Raven/Trivantage customers have shared their stories and experiences below.

They have innovated and created new designs—often equal to or better than the medical products currently on the market– by finding new ways to use fabrics and materials traditionally used for outdoor and industrial applications. Their collective voices underscore the importance of maintaining and cultivating a domestic apparel, textile and industrial supply chain and minimizing the country’s reliance on foreign imports during a global crisis.

 

Chair Care Patio

For the past 32 years, Debby Martz’s company, Chair Care Patio, has carved a niche in patio furniture repair and custom cushion and pillow designs in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

“We started this business as a hobby in our garage in 1988,” Martz said. “We were repairing patio furniture with vinyl straps and over the years we took it from the garage to 30,000 square feet of space in Dallas. We started with one sewing machine making replacement slings for our local Dallas/Fort Worth customers and that grew and grew to patio shops buying wholesale from us and an online business of custom designed cushions, pillows and slings.”

But over the course of just one month, the COVID-19 pandemic has put her company– along with tens of thousands of other American small businesses– to the test

Instead of shuttering her business, Martz met the challenge head on.

First approached by a local hospital, Martz said she started making prototypes of face shields, and later protective gowns, to help frontline health care workers battling the spread of the disease.

She tapped into a diverse cushion fabric inventory and started experimenting with new fabrications for gowns while also using vinyl materials and foams for face shields.

PPE production in Chair Care Patio factory

Today, Martz is working through an order for 20,000 face shields from Baylor, Scott and White Hospital in Dallas, which has a network of 400 hospitals in north Texas.

Chair Care Patio is now turning out 1,500 protective gowns and 1,000 face shields a day to fulfill the order, she said.x

In the past month, Martz purchased 14 new three-needle and four-needle surgers and has also hired 10-12 new sewers to her existing workforce, while carefully considering expanding her business over the long term.

“We have proven we can make things in America with a high quality and at a reasonable price,” Martz said. “I think we need to source material and goods in the United States and bring it all back to the United States to manufacture products like this and not be so dependent on imports from other countries.”

It has been a gratifying experience to help hospitals and keep her current staff employed, while adding new employees to the staff, she said.

“I think we need to get back to that manufacturing base of sewing and manufacturing because we can,” she noted. “We figured it out because we were forced to figure it out.”

 

Hoover Architectural Products

Hoover Architectural Products, a leading metal and fabric awnings manufacturer  founded in 1949, with locations in Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has made fabric awnings for the past 71 years and recently diversified into metal and other products for its customers.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Hoover had 44 employees but like so many other companies, it has had to lay off part of its workforce, said Matt Carroll, a third- generation owner.

The company’s traditional customer base ranges from general contractors to government and defense contractors as well as commercial customers such as The Cheesecake Factory, as well as residential, hotels, restaurants, resorts and shopping plazas.

Carroll said he was watching television with his son and heard about the need for face shields. His son, who told him he could make the face shields, was the initial catalyst behind his move into producing the PPE product.

Face shield production at Hoover Architectural Products

An inventor at heart—Carroll has a patented product set to hit the market later this year known as Wiper Fill, which filters rain water, turns it into wiper fluid or antifreeze, and deposits it into an vehicle’s wiper fluid tanks—he reached out to Kelley at Trivantage and heard about other fabricators who were starting to make face shields.

In just two short days, he had come up with the prototype and design that he is making now—a flexible, face shield with foam cushion that rolls up into a two-inch diameter tube. Putting his inventor instinct to work, Carroll utilized marine and awning grade clear vinyl that is scratch resistant and cleanable, foam cushions and Velcro brand straps.

“I was talking to nurses who said every time they turned their heads, the traditional face shields they use would hit their shoulder and fall off because of the hard plastic rigidity to them,” he said.

Carroll said he has the capacity to make 7,500 to 10,000 face shields a day and has currently made about 2,000 for local contractors and a medical health care facility, as well as orders for single-use by private companies.

He is also bidding on very large contracts of between 300,000 to 800,000 units and working with local hospital systems.

“As far as my philosophy of working through this time, we have given away more shields than we have sold, because there is so much red tape [on securing orders],” he said. “It is more important to me to be a good partner within our community than to make money. I do want to keep my employees busy and make sure they have a paycheck but it is as equally important to take care of our community.”

Carroll said collaboration with other fabricators and Trivantage has been important. The companies have shared designs, raw material suppliers and even cutting templates in the spirit of providing first responders with critical supplies.

The supply chain of fabricators with cut and sew operations in the U.S. is extensive.  They can be competitive on pricing and provide much needed supply, he said.

“If anything, this is going to teach us a good lesson to be a little more prepared,” he noted. “Build a stockpile, yes, but also be better prepared; know who the manufacturers are; have them pre-certified and screened and they will be able to flip a switch and go. It is critical for our nation’s security.”

Carroll echoed the sentiment of other American small business owners—that it is critical to maintain and prepare the country’s domestic supply chain for future threats.

“If we can’t take care of our own needs, then we’re not as strong as we could be as a nation,” he said. “Buying U.S. products from manufacturers that are local, sourcing local is important. It doesn’t make sense, in my opinion, for California state to be buying from a company in Florida when there are numerous local manufacturers.”

 

Rainier Industries Ltd.

Rainier Industries is an historic Seattle, Washington-based tent, awning and graphics company that has been producing products in the Pacific Northwest since 1896.

The company has three divisions—shelter, shade and display, including commercial and residential awnings, tents and industrial sewn products and a graphics print business.

Scott Campbell, president of Rainier Industries

Employing 250 people when operating at full capacity, Rainier has two plants in the Seattle area, as well as an assembly plant in North Carolina.

Scott Campbell, president of Rainier, said his existing tent and shelter business has been in high demand during the crisis, particularly for use as temporary shelters in the emergency hospital space.

Although the demand has also been high for sewn masks, Campbell said he could not take on additional business because his fabrics business is at full capacity due to the demand for emergency tent products.

But he jumped at the opportunity to develop prototypes for face shields and has been part of the shared discussions and collaboration involving fabricators, hospital systems, Glen Raven and Trivantage.

Companies worked on their own proprietary designs for face shields with different cost structures and designs, found ways to collaborate on suppliers and designs and taking the product to market.

“I really appreciate Bret, Trivantage and Glen Raven collaborating with us in taking face shields to market,” he said.

Rainier has sold 20,000 units of the clear vinyl face shields. The company’s largest customer to date has been the Department of General Services, Procurement division for the state of California, and it also selling the face shields to local hospitals.

“The demand is so high for face shields and they are primarily disposable at a low price point,” he said. “We are not making any money but we are keeping our people employed.”

Rainier is also launching a web-based store to sell its face shields but Campbell said he is uncertain whether this will develop into a long-term business for the company.

“We don’t want to get too deep into this and end up with a lot of inventory,” he said, echoing concerns shared by small business owners across the country.

Small business owners are facing serious challenges, including furloughing workers until business picks up, keeping on as many employees as possible, and developing PPE prototypes for products such as face shields, that have never been a part of their business plans.

“In general, there is no clear path in front of us. If business is shut down too long, the economic damage accelerates but if we bring them back too soon, you have health issues to worry about,” he said. “It is really difficult to do business planning and forecasting with a huge variety of unknowns.”

The silver lining, he said, has been developing new products, such as the face shield, which has generated healthy competition among his employees and could still evolve into a new business opportunity.

 

CCP Manufacturing

CCP Manufacturing is a custom manufacturer of canvas and vinyl products, providing contract sewing services for a variety of industries, including the athletics, medical, industrial, military and transportation areas.

Founded in 1965, the company has grown and diversified and has existing production in the medical field with its healthcare products line, which incorporates high-quality antimicrobial fabrics.

Jan Kellogg, president and owner of CCP Manufacturing

Face shields were not part of the company’s production line until COVID-19 hit but the company has an existing medical production line, said Jan Kellogg, president of CCP and a third-generation owner.

Tapping into her medical products, which includes a line of radiology straps for hospitals, Kellogg said she has used sewing capacity and materials to fabricate the face shields.

“We also took materials that we might use for windows—clear vinyl for curtain walls—and used them for the shield,” she said. “We have elastic that we use for the medical products that we manufacture and we utilized that as well.”

She estimates the company is now producing between 4,000 to 5,000 face shields per week for local hospitals and office groups in Ohio.

“We are doing this for two reasons: 1. To help people who need them and 2. To give our employees continued employment and a meaningful task at the same time,” she said.

Kellogg said it is easier to get the face shields into the hands of people locally, who are quick to make a decision to purchase.

Her response to healthcare groups and hospital associations who are looking for much larger quantities, is to let them know she is capable of supplying a portion of an order and works to see how her company can be part of the solution.

“We are very happy to be part of that whole process,” she said. “It revolves around innovation and openness to how to come to a solution for this new and different problem that we have never faced before.”

Kellogg has weathered economic downturns in the past, particularly the housing crisis of 2008 and 2009 that led to the Great Recession.

Her philosophy: “You come up with ideas like we did today and you move forward—and take care of your people.”

 

J Miller Canvas LLC 

For the past 25 years, J Miller Canvas LLC/Inc. in Santa Ana, California has manufactured architectural fabric structures, including tension umbrellas and retractable restaurant canopies; but the swift impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. economy has turned the company into manufacturers of PPE face shields overnight.

Dan Neill, principal of J Miller Canvas, said he bought the company with his business partner nearly two years ago.  The company works with developers and architects and manufactures architectural fabric structures for a variety of commercial market segments.

Neill recently learned that Providence St. Joseph Health (a group operating six to seven hospitals), was utilizing hospital volunteers to manufacture the shields and felt with the help of J Miller Canvas manufacturing the shields, the hospital volunteers could utilize their services in other areas.

“We went into the back and told our guys we needed to make shields. We put a couple of examples up on the screen, Googled face shields and let them go to town,” Neill said.

His team ran through 30 different design ideas and overcame various material supply challenges. But once they finally landed on the right design, production of the first face shields could begin.

Face shield assembly station at J Miller Canvas LLC

After delivering its first prototype, J Miller Canvas received an order for 10,000 units from St. Joseph’s and was manufacturing 500 to 750 face shields per day. Production has been put on hold currently, as the initial supply demand was met earlier than expected; but is expected to start up again very soon.

The face shields, comprised of a 20-gauge clear vinyl material with a one-inch square foam for the forehead and elastic band that holds the shield to the face, are primarily used for drive-up testing sites and other non-surgical activities in hospitals.

“Bret Kelley at Trivantage has been ‘essential’ in facilitating connections between our industry and hospital groups”, he added. “He has been a huge leader, telling hospitals ‘we have guys out here who can help and here is their name and number.’”

“We’ve never seen anything quite like this,” Neill said of the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is going to be something for the history books. We will be talking about April 2020—the year the world shut down.”

But it will also be considered the year U.S. small businesses turned their know-how, creativity and innovation into action and retooled production lines or used existing materials to rush to the aid of the nation and frontline health care workers in need of critical PPE products.

“Our workers have taken ownership of the face shields,” he said (noting the company employs 22 people). “Our whole goal is to keep these guys employed. They are the lifeline.”

 

Milliken & Company Mobilizing Production of Medical Textiles in Battle against COVID-19

Jeff Morris, Senior Vice President, Protective Fabrics at Milliken

Jeff Morris, senior vice president, Protective Fabrics at Milliken

Milliken & Company (Spartanburg, SC) is rapidly mobilizing on several fronts to ramp up production of newly engineered fabrics and inputs for personal protective equipment (PPE) to support healthcare workers in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

Jeff Morris, senior vice president of protective fabrics at Milliken, is co-leading the company’s Medical Fabrics Task Force, coordinating efforts across Milliken’s Textile Division as well as tapping networks to repurpose existing fabrics for PPE products.

Morris said the divisional task force is “engaging all elements of our business to utilize our in-house capabilities in order to meet the needs created by COVID-19, especially those of our healthcare workers.”

A key part of Milliken’s strategy is increasing production of its patented BioSmart® fabric, which uses bleach-activated technology to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria.

Milliken is also working across the division to repurpose fabrics and get them into production with a network of cut and sew operations to produce several medical textile products.

Morris said, “In a very short period of time, Milliken has taken existing products in our portfolio and repurposed them to meet certain standards” of The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) for Levels 1-2.

Scaling up Production of Anti-microbial BioSmart® Fabric

Milliken, a global diversified manufacturer, has ramped up domestic production of its BioSmart fabric during the coronavirus crisis. The advanced material integrates anti-microbial protection into a wide range of medical products including scrubs, lab coats and privacy curtains.

The company’s Biosmart fabric, first launched in 2007, is a patented bleach-activated technology that turns textiles into another layer of defense against microbial exposure.

Production of Milliken's BioSmart fabric.

Production of Milliken’s BioSmart fabric.

Morris pointed to a 60 Minutes interview with a doctor, who discussed the routine he goes through each night to protect his family from contracting the disease. He puts his scrubs in a bag, drops them into the wash and sterilizes them with Clorox bleach, while also showering to remove any potential traces of the virus from the hospital.

“This is where Milliken’s anti-microbial technology can add value,” Morris said. “Our BioSmart product is a textile enhancement. We apply BioSmart technology on fabrics for scrubs, lab coats, face masks and hospital privacy curtains. BioSmart binds chlorine to fabric, so if the doctor is washing a garment in chlorine bleach, they are now going to recharge the chlorine protection to the surface of that garment, which will give them an added level of protection.”

“You are putting another barrier between you and that virus potentially spreading to the next person,” he added.

Milliken Increases Production of Advanced Medical PPE

Another prong of Milliken’s PPE strategy is engineering textiles into medical-grade fabrics for Level 1 and 2 gowns.

The company is now manufacturing new critical barrier protection fabrics to be used in gowns and headcovers for health care professionals and is also researching and developing material inputs for face masks, Milliken said in a press release.

“Our team of scientists and developers are fully engaged, uncovering solutions to address critical medical and protective needs for those fighting on the front lines of this pandemic,” stated Chad McAllister, president of Milliken’s Textile Division and EVP, Milliken & Company.

The new innovations complement an existing range of products that can be used for temporary shelters and privacy dividers for transitory field hospitals.

Milliken’s advanced medical fabrics and barriers meet the Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 ANSI/AAMI/PB70 Standard and are used in gowns in minimal-risk, low-risk and moderate-risk situations.

 

Behind the Scenes of a Textile Giant–Repurposing Fabrics for PPE

Morris said Milliken has been working diligently to convert fabrics and greige goods to get them to the level of protection that is useful in the healthcare space.

“We turned this thing pretty quickly-in about a week’s time. We went from having a minimal offering to an offering in almost a week,” he added.

Milliken teams have spent hours working remotely—to develop plans for pivoting existing in-house fabrics to materials for healthcare workers.

With graduations across the country on hiatus during the coronavirus crisis, Milliken, one of the largest producers of the fabric, has a portion of its inventory for PPE products.

“By adding unique chemistry and solutions through creative thinking, we are able to repurpose those fabrics to meet Level 1 and Level 2 protective products,” Morris said.

“There are two paths Milliken is going down. We are working on all fabrics for wearable garments [and converting them into Level 1 and Level 2 medical fabrics]. We are also looking at how we can transform materials from our nonwovens business, which has typically been for the automotive industry, into protective masks and gowns,” he said.

A worker sewing fabric for Level 1 gowns together

Morris said Milliken is working with cut and sewers to design hospital gowns to make them more wearable and “reusable” than the current disposal products.

Illustrating how the company is working with its traditional customer base, which primarily makes industrial workwear and flame-resistant garments, Morris pointed to a long-time customer in Cleveland, Ohio—National Safety Apparel—which has historically produced PPE products for electrical workers, industrial workers and other safety-oriented products.

Having been deemed “essential” by authorities, National Safety Apparel has converted its manufacturing to help supply the urgent needs of healthcare workers.  Milliken is providing Level 1-and 2 tested fabrics for NSA to produce protective gowns.

It is just one example of many where Milliken is working with traditional customers to supply fabrics for medical PPE products.

Milliken will continue to work with a network of cutting and sewing operations that are also repurposing their manufacturing lines from office furniture, automotive, upholstery, and industrial workwear products to medical textile products for the healthcare industry.

The National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) has been a “big facilitator in brokering with a number of cut and sewers,” Morris said. “These are cut and sewers that we don’t typically work with domestically who make men’s dress shirts, suits and tailored products. As these lines turn towards medical PPE, we are able to come alongside their efforts and supply critical fabrics.”

Ultimately the company’s goal is to develop a long-term, sustainable business.

“Milliken wants to help, and we’ve shifted to meet this immediate need,” Morris said. “As we move forward, there are a number of lessons industries can apply from this experience. You need to have diversity in your supply chain. You need to keep domestic manufacturing more viable. Furthermore, this has opened our eyes to the necessity of medical PPE at any time, something which inspires us to support both now and into the future. It is not always about the lowest price.”