By Chris Meehan | Aug 17, 2020
Outdoor apparel; face masks for COVID-19
When Colorado Governor Jared Polis, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, called on all Coloradans to "Wear a damn mask!" in July, he probably had a Phunkshun mask in mind. When he debuted his first mask back in April, in fact, he was wearing a Phunkshun PH Mask emblazoned with a Colorado flag theme.
Badgley says Polis' TV appearance in the spring catalyzed sales. "This was the same day the CDC released their guidelines, recommending all Americans do this," he explains. "He truly led by example there and went on and encouraged all Coloradans to do this."
"Prior to that, it was a question of the worth of our face coverings: Do they do anything?" Badgley says. "Do they actually limit or inhibit the spread of this? And even if they do, would Americans wear them? Those are the questions we asked, we didn't know the answer to any of them. I think, like many, we were unprepared. We underestimated how strong, how high the demand for face coverings would be."
Badgley estimates that he began developing prototype designs for PH Masks in March. "I don't think we even put them on the website or offered them for sale until after the press release happened," he says.
Noting it seems like a year ago since that happened -- a feeling most people can probably agree with -- he says it came about because he sits on the advisory council for the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. The company is donating a mask to the Colorado Mask Project for every mask sold.
Phunkshun shut down manufacturing in the early days of the outbreak, then reopened later in the spring. To meet demand, the company expanded production and warehouse space in north Denver from 12,000 to 18,000 square feet.
"We obviously have to look out for the health and safety of our employees and it's easy to space out some of the manufacturing machinery," says Badgley. "The harder things are bathrooms, breakrooms, things like that. Before we could bring all of our staff back to meet demand, we realized there were changes that had to make."
The company added more employees and equipment as it expanded. Badgley says that most of the new positions are in production.
The new equipment includes a laser fabric cutter and the company is currently replacing a rotary transfer press with an upgraded version. "It has a larger heating element and it transfers at a faster speed," explains Badgley. He says it makes Phunkshun's dye-sublimated graphics more vibrant and consistent as well.
Likewise the laser cutter improves cutting speed and accuracy for the company. "Up until recently I was cutting the fabric as with so many textile facilities where it's very often the owner, the CEO that does the cutting because it is such an important job and it has to be so precise," Badgley says.
Founded in Silverthorne before moving to Denver in 2014, Phunkshun was well-positioned for the pivot after nearly a decade manufacturing neck tubes, "Ballerclavas," and other garments in Colorado. Porting the cut-and-sew operation to personal hygiene masks made perfect sense for the company, particularly since ski resorts closed early.
"Closing in the middle of spring during one of the busiest times for ski resorts to sell retail products at their resorts impacted everyone's sales one way or another because there's a lot of product that was expected to be moved through that period, but the doors were closed and the product's going to be sold next year," Badgley explains.
Given that the company was able to transition smoothly to PH Masks, Badgley remains cautiously optimistic that overall sales will remain within expectations for the year. "I'm hoping that we do see growth," he says. "I'm hoping that the economy throughout the rest of the year is strong. I'm hoping people are able to ski and snowboard in a safe way. There's a lot of variables still to happen and you know, there's a lot still to transpire."
He adds, "I don't think anyone wants to profit off of a terrible tragedy, at least I hope not. But at the same time, the fact that that's our core product and we can achieve some stability in this challenging time, keep our staff employed, keeps food on their tables, it does mean something."
Challenges: "The obvious elephant in the room is what's going to happen next. We don't know," Badgley says. "The unknown right now is the biggest challenge."
Training is another big hurdle for Phunkshun. "I don't know if there will ever be some great retraining program for people who come out of one industry to go into manufacturing," says Badgley. "If someone says, 'Hey, I want to work, what can I do?,' right now I can't pull someone off to train them on something. I don't have that ability."
Opportunities: "I think the opportunities, not just for us, I think it's for a lot of businesses in the U.S. is the ability to take a magnifying glass to every aspect of your business. If you hadn't thought about digitally modernizing any of your workflows before, you really need to now," says Badgley. "It's time for us I think as a country to say, 'Hey, you know, we had a shortage of things we weren't able to supply. These things were dependent on things coming from elsewhere. We still needed the ability to make them ourselves.' And I think there's the ability to increase our manufacturing jobs, to increase our manufacturing infrastructure and the role it plays in our society."
Needs: "That magic crystal ball that tells me what's going to happen in three to six months," Badgley jokes. "We need people to be healthy and safe. This affects my employees' ability to come to work. This affects their ability to work. It affects their ability to put food on their table. This affects my ability to make things and sell them."
He adds, "If this is done right . . . then we can probably go ski and snowboard or do other things sooner. Then hopefully our business can shift back to those products, but everybody being conscious of their fellow human, that's the biggest thing."