Sports gear maker switches to face masks after coronavirus cuts

Coronavirus

LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — A Lowell sports gear manufacturer who watched orders plummet as coronavirus concerns canceled sporting events and paused practices is now retooling to provide a first layer of defense against the disease.

Addix launched its own line of custom-made face masks Tuesday afternoon.

The masks are made with elastic binding as well as micro-polyester dry wicking material Addix used in a lot of its sportswear before demand dried up.

“We were humming… and we were going into our busiest season,” said CEO Steve Dean. “That came to a screeching halt. We haven’t received an order since Wednesday of last week.”

Dean says the lack of orders forced him to lay off 25% of his workforce of about 48 people last week.

Dean says he’s lived through some major altering events like Sept. 11 and when the housing market bubble broke, but this situation is unprecedented.

“To me this is 9/11 plus 2008 plus something else,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude ever.”

Dean makes no claims his company’s masks operate like N95 respirators, which filter out 95 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in size. But he says Addix’s masks can serve as a layer of defense.

“It’s for sake of having nothing else,” Dean said. “We’re doing it because there aren’t any masks and we have customers who want them.”

He said he’s reached out to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to get the product certified, but the agency is understandably busy and hasn’t yet returned his message.

“I want to keep my factory open, I want to keep people employed. I want to do something people really want right now, I’m not trying to mislead (customers),” Dean said.

Dean says the product has gained the attention of some major grocers and businesses interested in masks customized with their logo. One company in Scotland inquired about a price for 10,000 masks, he says.

Dean says when Addix launched the line Tuesday afternoon, they took seven orders almost immediately. A team of seven sewers that was previously piecing together team jerseys has already made well over 1,000 masks, according to the CEO.

Dean said if demand can reach 1,200 masks a day, he can bring his workforce back to full strength.

For now, he says they’re trying to keep working employees healthy with a routine of cleaning equipment twice daily with sanitizer wipes and providing plenty of hand sanitizer. He said they’re also working to space sewing machines farther apart and sales and finance employees are working remotely.

Dean says all profits from the masks will go to United Way Worldwide’s COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund.

As Addix works through how supply and demand will look for its new product, Dean says the business will also try to trim the price for customers.

***CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated 10% of profit was going to United Way Worldwide, not 10% of revenue. We regret this error, which has since been corrected.***

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