Veteran-owned and American-made, the company aims for its masks to balance effectiveness and comfort.
These past two years, mask wearing has gone from a rarity outside of operating rooms to widespread as we worked to stop the spread of COVID-19. But mask wearing was already common for Michael Vahey, the owner of Virginia-based Breathe Healthy, a company that has been making reusable cloth masks in the USA for the past 15 years.
Vahey was an engineer serving in the Army who had long suffered from allergies. During his service, the dusty terrains often exacerbated his allergies, sometimes getting as bad as swelling his eyes shut.
Vahey used whatever he could find to protect his face from exposure. But when Vahey returned from service, he discovered Breathe Healthy, which made cloth masks for people going through chemotherapy or suffering from conditions like COPD.
“I liked it so much, I bought the company,” Vahey said.
What distinguishes Breathe Healthy from other masks is that they are designed to have a comfortable fit that stays secure on a broader array of faces. Breathe Healthy masks are designed to stay sealed, with adjustable nose pieces and ear loops, and employ an antimicrobial called Aegis that stops viral and microbial growth. Breathe Healthy masks are reusable and don’t degrade or become less effective over time, and while they’re not at the same level of filtration as an N95 mask, their lab-tested filtration maximizes comfort to ensure that they’re breathable in the heat.
As Vahey explained, “we think we have found the right balance of filtration versus comfort.”
Importantly, Breathe Healthy masks are also some of the highest-quality on the market because they are Made in America.
“Our masks are unique because of their construction and the fact that they are Made in the USA,” Vahey told me. “I have always been a believer in the U.S. workforce, and I know we can compete with any other nation in the world as far as quality is concerned.”
Vahey discussed how despite higher labor costs, making Breathe Healthy masks in the US brought numerous additional benefits.
“Lead times are shorter because we do not have to wait for ships or airlines to deliver our products,” he said. “Communication is easier because there are no language barriers or time zone barriers. Quality can be controlled much easier as well when we are able to inspect our manufacturing within a few hours drive. There is a greater level of trust that occurs when we can regularly meet face-to-face with our suppliers.”
Breathe Healthy’s decision to manufacture in the U.S. was a notable contrast to other firms — especially when the United States was rocked by a shortage of PPE early on in the pandemic as international supply chains tightened. And we are still dealing with issues where international suppliers of PPE have been found to use forced labor.
During the pandemic, Breathe Healthy saw their entire inventory get snapped up when they were one of the few suppliers of American-made PPE. But by the time that they could ramp production back up, demand had shifted to those issue-laden foreign products.
“Americans have learned that when we rely on importing from other countries, we put ourselves at risk,” Vahey said. “I would love to see more manufacturing come back to our shores because of this, and for this reason Breathe Healthy masks will always be Made in America.”
Vahey added: “Our hope is that other companies and consumers will choose America first for manufacturing, increasing the demand of U.S.-made products. There will always be those who only buy the cheapest things they can find, regardless of origin, but I think there has been a post pandemic shift in the mindset of some.”
Although the Delta variant may prolong the pandemic longer than many of us hoped – and lead to further mask wearing in the near-term — the effectiveness of the vaccines means we are likely heading toward a post-pandemic world. For Breathe Healthy, that will mean returning to their core customers of COPD patients, chemo warriors, and those struggling with allergies.
After all, Breathe Healthy has been in business since 2006 making breathable, effective cloth masks. Despite the recent politicization of masks, they do serve a real, important purpose for many outside the realm of COVID-19.
Vahey seemed optimistic about the future outlook for Breathe Healthy.
“I believe that going forward, a greater percent of the U.S. population will no longer be averse to mask wearing,” Vahey said. “Much like in many parts of Asia, we will no longer consider mask wearing as taboo, and I think we will see more of the U.S. population wearing masks for multiple uses.”
And with Breathe Healthy going strong, people can do so by supporting a veteran-owned, Made in America company.