Importer Companies Contribute Resources to Battle Against COVID-19

By: Elizabeth King, Cotton Board Vice President of Importer Services

(Elizabeth resides in Los Angeles, California, where masks are now mandatory)

As you no doubt know already, apparel retailers and brands have been among the hardest hit economically during this pandemic shut down. Brick-and-mortar retail stores began closing on March 14, and reopening dates are purely speculation at this stage as companies have begun to furlough both store and corporate employees.

Despite this being a very stressful time for Importers, many companies from large to small have been working hard to do what they can to help get Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) into the hands of our healthcare workers and others. Whether they have activated their own supply chains, leveraged their relationships overseas, or made donations, we wanted to highlight what a few of our Cotton Board importer board member companies are doing.

I checked in with member Scott Johnson who works for Gap Inc. Gap is pairing U.S. hospitals with existing PPE vendors in Asia to quickly procure what they need. They facilitated an order for 350,000 masks that was delivered last Friday to Kaiser Permanente and multiple other orders between U.S. hospitals and PPE vendors are in the works. They’ve also begun to repurpose some of their factories’ sewing lines to make masks and gowns. This is a longer term project as it takes time to test fabric and re-engineer manufacturing for products they don’t normally produce. Shipping should begin in early summer. Gap has also donated over one million dollars to local and national non-profit organizations on the front lines of providing relief and has offered free storage space in their distribution centers for first responders to store gear and supplies.

SanMar, where member Emily Gigot works, has been part of an early effort by a coalition of U.S. manufacturers organized by former Cotton Board alternate Andy Warlick of Parkdale Mills together with The White House. SanMar is manufacturing masks and other textiles as needed at their plants in Tennessee and Honduras. The coalition hopes to produce five to six million (non-N95) masks per week.

Akiko Inui, our Importer Support Program committee chair, filled me in on what’s been happening at her company, PVH Corp. In March, PVH began shipping more than two million units of PPE that includes isolation gowns, masks and face shields to Montefiore Health System in New York City. PVH CEO Manny Chirico, who recently announced he has been diagnosed with COVID-19, has a longstanding relationship with Montefiore and sits on their board. The PVH Foundation has committed $1 million to COVID-19 relief. PVH brands, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, are also donating product for frontline healthcare workers as needed.

I also chatted with Cotton Board alternate Jay Self, President and COO of Greenwood Mills. They have switched over some of their denim production and are currently making 150,000 polycotton masks/gowns a week, with the potential to ramp up to 500,000 masks and 300,000 gowns a week depending on demand.

New Balance, home to former Cotton Board member Monica Gorman and current member John Stokes, has begun manufacturing masks at their Lawrence, MA and Norridgewock, ME sneaker factories and aim to produce 100,000 masks a week. Product engineers at New Balance were able to repurpose material they had on hand that is used in their sneakers to create a mask that has a level of filtration that should be suitable for healthcare workers proving that necessity is definitely the mother of invention.

So, although the dramatic spread of COVID-19 has disrupted lives, livelihoods, communities and businesses worldwide, we can be proud of the way our colleagues in the retail/brand community are coming together and finding innovative ways contribute and help. Please stay safe.

Eking Mask