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Mount Airy apparel manufacturer joins growing field of PPE producers

Mount Airy apparel manufacturer joins growing field of PPE producers

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Heightened demand for personal protection equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic has given a Mount Airy apparel company a new lease on its corporate life.

United Sewing Automation Inc. officially opened Tuesday an automated manufacturing plant at 1772 N. Andy Griffith Pkwy. The company could not be immediately reached for comment on how many employees it has at the plant.

Company officials said the plant is capable of producing between 1.5 million and 2 million three-ply disposable face masks a week. A sales flier on its website indicates a 10,000-mask minimal order.

Company officials said they shifted to face-mask production in large part to provide a U.S.-produced and sourced option, particularly for essential workers in the healthcare sector.

“Due to the significant shortage of personal protective equipment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to do our part to help fill this void by manufacturing medical-grade face masks,” Ben Webb, the company’s chief executive, said in a news release.

“We believe that Americans deserve the highest quality face mask protection. Our masks are not available for export until this pandemic is over.”

The face masks feature a three-ply design with a built-in adjustable nose bridge and ear loop straps made of nylon and elastic cord.

The company said the face masks are tested for protection against bacterial and other airborne particulates, liquid barrier protection and breathability.

The company said it had been attempting to open an apparel manufacturing plant in Mount Airy since 2017.

However, a plant fire in June 2018 led to a loss of production equipment before the company produced its first garment.

United Sewing is the latest apparel manufacturer with a Triad presence choosing to make PPE products.

Hanesbrands Inc. served as one of the Top 10 vendors of COVID-19 supplies to the federal government, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last week.

Hanesbrands ranked seventh with six personal protective equipment contracts valued at $523.5 million.

The breakdown was $348.5 million for medical face masks and $175 million for reusable medical gowns.

The surgical gowns were distributed by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency to hospitals and temporary treatment facilities.

The long-sleeve gowns are made from fabric designed to be splash-resistant and can be washed.

Sock manufacturer Renfro Corp. also decided to make face masks to help meet demand. Renfro is preparing to move its corporate headquarters from Mount Airy to downtown Winston-Salem by early fall.

Renfro put a focus on taking care of its future home base in April by producing 380,000 face masks, enough for every city resident as part of Winston-Salem’s Mask the City initiative.

The washable Renfro masks — Nightingale WS Protective Masks — are designed by a team led by Dr. William Satterwhite III, chief wellness officer at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Renfro has sold the masks at most Lowes Foods locations around Forsyth County. Healthcare systems, college and universities, nonprofit groups, corporations and other government entities have put the masks to use.

Gildan Activewear Inc. converted production at some Central American and Caribbean plants to producing medical apparel, including hundreds of millions of masks and gowns.

rcraver@wsjournal.com

336-727-7376

@rcraverWSJ

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