Outdoor/Snowsports Brands Shift Gears to Safety Products

Outdoor Research Seattle factory produces surgical masks, N95 respirator masks and fabric facemasks.

“There’s no case study for this,” said Jason Duncan, head of tactical, innovation and CSR at Outdoor Research, during a recent webinar on “Pivoting to Produce, Source & Donate PPE.” As a maker of technical outdoor and tactical apparel based in Seattle, an epicenter of the pandemic, Outdoor Research (OR) was quick to react to the COVID-19 crisis pumping out 220,000 masks from its factory in a matter of weeks. “This wasn’t driven by business, it was driven by need,” Duncan explained.

Duncan credits the company’s investment in additional manufacturing capability, high-speed equipment and employee training within the Seattle plant as well as installing advanced medical manufacturing lines, allowing Outdoor Research a fast turnaround towards becoming an FDA-approved Class II medical mask maker.

Like Outdoor Research, countless brands in the outdoor and snowsports industries have answered the call to make, distribute and donate PPE. During the webinar, sandal maker Chaco and Utah-based DPS Skis outlined efforts to shift manufacturing to PPE and work with local healthcare facilities to help fill a void in needed personal protection equipment. Moderated by Verde Brand Communications founder Kristin Carpenter, the April 14th webinar was joint effort by OIA and SIA.

Difficulty finding materials and textile providers and frustration around tracking down accurate regulatory information is a common refrain heard from brand execs looking to pivot to PPE capacity. A welcome solution now comes in the form of Supply Connector, a website that links domestic makers with essential providers: https://supplyconnector.org/. Webinar panelist Sara Wood, chairperson of the North Carolina Outdoor Recreation Coalition, described Supply Connector as a “mobilizer,” developed to be a nationwide platform for direct, rapid response to help brands find resources that can help.

The website supplyconnector.org, launched April 10th, is a volunteer effort by NC organizations. Manufacturers can search for materials, design validation, labor, or finished goods as well as list their ability to provide any of them. Essential providers can list their needs for finished goods or their ability to validate product design.

Panelists stressed the need for a domestic supply chain not only in this time of Covid-19, but in the long term as well. Stated Duncan, “We should be reinforcing the importance of USA supply chain and make sure it is supported going forward.” He added, “We’ve learned what an essential worker is – in our case that’s 160 sewers making masks.”