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US Textile Industry Unites to Produce PPE for the Front Lines

In factories across the U.S., textile companies have been retooling production, sometimes virtually overnight, to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) products ranging from hospital gowns and face masks to shoe covers and scrubs.

The industry is playing a critical role in the public-private partnership that has become vital in the nation’s manufacturing strategy and solution to battle COVID-19 and meet the high demand for these products for those on the front lines.

“Coordinating with local hospitals, healthcare organizations, the entire U.S. production chain and federal agencies, the textile industry has been at the forefront of the incredible manufacturing effort, contributing to the country’s rapid response to the rising needs of frontline workers,” Kim Glas, president and CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), said. “This industry has taken the lead in this effort, utilizing American manufacturing facilities and workers, despite facing many challenges in this environment.

“Our industry will continue to do all they can to serve the American people, frontline hospital workers and patients at this time,” she added.

At Beverly Knits Inc., CEO Ron Sytz said the company has helped to organize a team of more than 25 companies with 4,000 textile and apparel workers to manufacture personal protective mask for HHS. Through NCTO and SEAMS [the Association and Voice of the U.S. Sewn Products Industry] Sytz said, “we continue to engage with additional companies to help fight this pandemic and flatten the curve.”

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“Burlington is proud to be a part of an industry with such compassion and call to action as we have seen over the last couple of weeks in the fight against COVID-19,” Allen Smith, president of Burlington Safety Components & A&E–Americas, said. “Burlington is glad to offer its reusable woven products and technical expertise to those within and outside our industry who are stepping up to help produce lifesaving PPE. Our employees are committed to the cause and working tirelessly in North Carolina to increase production, reallocate resources and support the evolving needs as much as possible.”

James McKinnon, CEO of Cotswold Industries, said the company has pivoted to making PPE substrates for single use non-woven fabrics for and also for reusable PPE.

“We have ramped our reusable fabric production and hope to produce 100,000 to 150,000 per week very shortly,” McKinnon said.

Chuck Ward, president of Gildan Yarns, said the company is pleased to join forces with various business partners in the U.S. to reopen some of Gildan’s global manufacturing facilities under a strict biosecurity protocol to produce face masks and isolation gowns in support of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are also proud to have donated a number of N95 protective face masks to local hospitals or health and human services organizations in the U.S. to support front line healthcare providers who continue to deliver exceptional care to patients and their families during this crisis,” Ward added.

Leib Oehmig, CEO of Glen Raven and NCTO chairman, said the U.S. textile industry has emerged as a critical part of the solution in protecting frontline workers from COVID-19.

“Glen Raven, through our business units, is actively working with our partners across many industries and have aligned our resources to focus on PPE inputs where we are in the best position to offer solutions,” Oehmig said. “These include inputs for gowns, face shields, mask covers and temporary structures. As part of our response, Glen Raven has organized a fabrication group with several of our customers who are producing face shields and gowns. This group is collaborating with hospital systems across the country to design and scale production of these important products.”

Schneider Mills has hurried orders of fabric for the outdoor shelters flanking medical facilities across America.

“Demand in lightweight rip-stop fabrics being used for medical gowns and lightweight tents has increased, as well,” said Curt Parker, vice president of operations at Schneider Mills. “We are continuing to supply to the medical tape industry for 3M. We are responding to a new customer for barrier fabrics in the medical end uses. We are pleased to be doing all we can to support our country in this war with COVID-19. Our employees are putting forth great efforts in these changes as they occur rapidly.”

The Lycra Company, the only spandex producer in the U.S., is supplying that fiber, nylon and other quality fibers to value-chain customers.

“We are encouraged by the quick action of many of our customers who have shifted production to produce masks and other protective devices,” said Julien Born, president of apparel for Lycra Co.

Unifi Inc. has more than 100 customers producing masks, gowns and other PPE needed by first responders, medical personnel and military in need of gear to support their response to the pandemic, said Tom Caudle, the fiber maker’s president and chief operating officer.