From jerseys to personal protective equipment, this company found a way to keep its doors open.
FitUSA Manufacturing's logo is an antique sewing machine.
It represents getting back to the basics, President Troy Olson said, calling it "old-school, American hard work. And what's great about this country, he said, is that when challenges arise, people band together. He saw it firsthand in his company.
“Hearts become one and we just go," Olson said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, FitUSA manufactured sports apparel. But as events were postponed, and sports seasons suspended, the company had to find a new good to produce to stay financially afloat. That's where his employees stepped up, Olson said. They suggested FitUSA begin making face masks.
“It made sense," Olson said. "Either you close the doors and send people home, or you find a way to get through this and help people across the country."
Olson and his research team began looking into the components that make up an N95 mask, finding that their sports uniform fabric matched a part of the materials for the mask: the 100% spun polyester.
Their sports jersey fabric had to be better for making masks that simple cotton, Olson thought. But he was challenged with finding a way to cut through the red tape.
“It’s hard to think outside the box, because we’ve never been put in this position in our history," Olson said. "So I knew we had to help. There had to be a way."
Ormond Beach Economic Development Director Brian Rademacher had been working with Olson in finding a solution for the transition from sports apparel to masks, and he suggested they listen in to an emergency management call with state and healthcare representatives in Mid-March regarding the coronavirus outbreak.
“During that entire phone call, all we heard repeatedly was, ‘we need PPE. We need face masks. We need gowns. We need all this stuff,’” Rademacher said.
Olson got a chance to jump in and say his company was ready to start making face masks and personal protective equipment — gowns, face masks or other garments meant to protect the wearer from biohazards — and that he just needed direction.
Two minutes later, Olson was on the phone with representatives from Halifax Health. By noon that day, he was sitting inside DME Sports Academy presenting prototypes for a basic surgical face mask.
By 2 p.m., FitUSA was officially in the mask-making business.
The company is selling their basic face masks for $6.75. FitUSA is also offering a tri-layer fitted mask for $13.25; it is pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration. The masks are all reusable and washable, and Olson said they should last over 30 washes.
In contrast to other companies across the nation, pivoting their business to masks has also allowed FitUSA to hire more employees. Olson said he's lost track of how many employees he currently has.
From an economic standpoint, Rademacher said having companies like FitUSA, and others, in Ormond Beach who continue to hire and provide services is beneficial.
“It’s pretty amazing to see that there is still that opportunity to have them producing and providing benefits to the local economy," Rademacher said.
Though the business transitioned happened quickly, for Olson, the move went beyond financial logistics.
"At the end of this, when we come out of this, we just want to be able to say we made a difference, and I know our staff out there — their heart and soul is in it,” he said.