America’s Textile Makers and Workers Switch Gears to Help in Coronavirus Fight

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Mar 22 2020 |
Photo courtesy American Giant

American Giant, R. Riveter and others plan to make medical facemasks to address shortages.

A coalition of apparel brands and textile companies announced on Saturday that they will begin producing desperately needed facemasks for hospitals, health care workers and others on the frontlines of the battle to contain COVID-19.

The National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) said in a press release that the companies put together “a supply chain virtually overnight” and “expect to begin production on Monday.” The first deliveries are expected by mid-week; the companies say they plan to be fully ramped up in four to five weeks, making up to 10 million facemasks per week.

Companies involved in the effort include Parkdale Inc., the largest yarn spinner in the United States, along with companies like Hanesbrand, Fruit of the Loom, American Giant, Los Angeles Apparel, AST Sportswear, America Knits, Beverly Knits and Riegel Linen, according to the NCTO.

Other American apparel and textile manufacturers also have said they plan to start making facemasks, including fashion designer Christian Siriano and “Shark Tank” veterans R. Riveter, who noted on Twitter that the effort is rather timely:

It's been a pretty scary week, and it looks like the United States is facing a tough road over the next few months. The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented, and in many respects, the United States has failed in its response.

But personally, it’s a big comfort to know that there are people out there who are leading the way in showing the rest of us how to get through this crisis.

There’s the doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel working tirelessly in hospitals around the country to care for an increasing number of sick patients. There’s the grocery, pharmacy and other essential retail teams on the frontlines, keeping stores stocked and open. There’s the truckers, delivery drivers and warehouse workers all staying on the job so people are able to get food and other supplies delivered to their home.  

And there are the American manufacturers and workers who are keeping their factories up and running to ensure that we still get the products we need (looking at you, toilet paper makers and workers!)

Now many of them are, within just a few days, completely overhauling what they do to help fill a critical need at a desperate time. It’s not just the textile and apparel makers; American auto companies and workers also say they are working to transform their plants so they can start making ventilators.

Things look pretty dire right now. But American manufacturers long have been told to give up, that making things in the United States is pointless. They refused to listen and made their stuff here anyway. They forged ahead.