The Vendor Response to a Pandemic

With much of the team sports business grinding to a halt over the past two months, Team Insight and TeamInsightExtra, our digital newsletter, have been busy chronicling the myriad efforts being made by suppliers to the team industry in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From shifting manufacturing capacity to make much-needed face masks to spearheading community efforts to support healthcare workers and others on the front lines of battling a pandemic that has shut schools, cancelled spring sports and threatens the fall season, the team business has responded with creative and impressive efforts. Here is a compilation of many of those efforts that continue as the industry – and the entire world – searches for a light at the end of the tunnel.

Blythe’s Patches Up COVID-19 Efforts

With spring sports cancelled and thousands of high school athletes missing out on their varsity seasons – and the chance to purchase that always-important varsity jacket to mark the occasion – Mike Blythe, owner of Valparaiso, IN-based Blythe’s Athletics, came up with a unique way to ease the disappointment just a little bit. The team dealer designed a special coronavirus Varsity Jacket patch for high school athletes to add to their jackets to mark the occasion of a missed season.  “It’s been a big hit with high school kids, it’s selling very well and is a historical reminder of what happened this year,” Blythe says. The patch is part of his company’s effort to stay ahead of the game by anticipating what customers will want in this new environment and to help boost sales following the lack of a finish to the high school basketball season and the start of  the 2020 baseball season.

Founder Sport Group Launched Products to Support First Responders

Founder Sport Group, whose team sports brands include Alleson, Badger, Garb and Teamwork, began producing a performance activity mask, along with an inspirationally messaged T-shirt, with 100 percent of all net proceeds from the sale of both products being donated to the All Clear Foundation, a 501c3 organization dedicated to improving the life expectancy and wellbeing of all First Responders.

As part of this effort, Founder Sport leveraged its cutting and sewing capabilities in both Statesville, NC, and Managua, Nicaragua, to produce performance activity masks (PAMs), which are designed for active individuals who must make an essential outing to the grocery store or a public location. While not a replacement for medical-grade face masks, they are engineered to serve as an additional barrier to the outside environment.

“We are hopeful that the performance activity mask will provide concerned citizens some peace of mind, while allowing medically approved N95 masks to go to front-line personnel,” said CEO John Anton. “During this time of crisis, we are focused on making a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our community at large and First Responders specifically.”

The specialty T-shirts are emblazoned with the inspirational message: “The Best Offense is a Good Defense.”  This shirt reminds everyone all to defend against the spread of COVID-19 by staying home, practicing social distancing and washing hands.

“In these unprecedented times, we all have an opportunity to step up and do our part to take pressure off of the healthcare system and stop COVID-19,” added Janell Farr, president of the All Clear Foundation. “We sincerely appreciate the efforts of Founder Sport Group in the fight by retooling their factories to help with production as well as increasing awareness of the importance of staying home whenever possible.”

Stahls’ Offered Decorating Survival Guide

In support of its motto “Stahls’ helps you win,” Josh Ellsworth, senior VP–dealer and enterprises sales for GroupeStahl, put together an e-book of ideas, tips and suggestions on how to best cope with the COVID-19 situation. In it he talks about why it is more important than ever before to have a website and answers questions, such as What is the minimum viable product a company or individual needs to provide customers while working from home? He also addressed the benefits of adding business-to-consumer products via the company’s Spirit Sale services. Supporting and collaborating with one another as decorators is another suggestion that included links to groups and online educational events that make this easier. The book also offered seven tips on how to gain lifetime loyalty and increase customer value right now.

SanMar Joined Face Mask Coalition

SanMar joined a coalition of U.S. apparel companies working with the White House to build a supply chain to produce millions of much-needed face masks. These masks were distributed by the federal government to support hospitals, health care workers and others battling the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

SanMar president Jeremy Lott was moved into action after one of his employees told him that her son, an EMT, was ill-equipped to help patients out in the field. “She said they don’t have masks and have been advised to wear bandanas and she is worried about him,” said Lott. “That really hit me. We want to do whatever we can do support these efforts.”

“We are doing daily calls with the White House and are part of this effort as a result of our ability to make and sew textiles here in the U.S., as well as in Central America,” said Renton Leversedge, chief customer officer for SanMar. “We have manufacturing expertise and we have scale, which enables us to take part in this very important work.” SanMar worked both to produce masks and to produce many of the textiles in its manufacturing plants in Knoxville, TN, and Central America in order to support the sewing operations across the coalition.

Augusta Partnered With the Red Cross

The Augusta Sportswear Group joined the cause by partnering with the American Red Cross for an American Flag Hat Program through its Pacific Headwear brand. The partnership donated $4 from every cap in the American Flag Collection sold to the American Red Cross. The  Pacific Headwear American Flag Collection offered three stock caps with sayings such as “Unified,” “Stay Strong” and “Apart and United.”

Bison Provided Facility Safety Checklist

Bison, which was in a position to continue manufacturing sports equipment for the day when courts, fields and stadiums reopen, helped dealers keep their customers focused on that day by providing a free facility safety checklist.

InkSoft Helped With Fundraising

InkSoft made sure that if a team dealer had an online designer and the ability to set up web stores, then it had a way to help local businesses to create fundraisers that could help keep them afloat during the pandemic. A customer success story, recently published by InkSoft, talked about Sunday Cool, a faith-based screenprinting operation in Tavares, FL, that was using its resources to create fundraisers for others. Prior to the virus, this shop had 59 employees. In order to stay open, it was forced to lay off 19 and asked remaining staff to temporarily take a 50 percent pay cut. But its recent activities have allowed the shop to sustain those they kept and keep some money coming in through the doors.  It launched a #SupportLocal campaign that is available to any business. Sunday Cool works with the company to create and design a shirt and set up a free webstore. A percentage of the sale of these T-shirts goes to the company.

Champro Sports Shifted to Making Masks

Champro repurposed some of its sporting goods production capabilities to make products needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. A portion of all sales awent to support the company’s initiative to provide masks to the at-risk population.Its new Triple Layer Face Mask line features customized graphics and is available in three wear styles (over ear, around the head and tie back) and is offered in adult and youth size. The outer layer of the mask is lightweight 100 percent polyester and the inner layers are 100 percent cotton for comfort and breathability. The 3D contoured design creates space between the wearer’s mouth and the mask to reduce condensation, which increases long-term wear comfort and mask effectiveness. The sublimated masks are fully customizable and feature Champro’s Juice sublimation to produce vibrant colors. The Branded Bulk masks come in 14 colors and include a one- or two-color heat transfer logo/graphic. All masks are washable and reusable, making them economical and eco-friendly.

G-Form Retooled for PPE

G-Form, which makes personal protective gear for team sports, dedicated its North Smithfield, RI, manufacturing facility, Polyworks, to the production of ANSI/ISEA Z87 D3 personal protective equipment (PPE) face shields. The facility retooled to produce several hundred thousand face shields weekly. Though the company already had several hundred thousand face shields committed to various healthcare operations throughout the U.S., G-Form said it will remain steadfast in its support of the medical community. “We take great honor in supporting the efforts to protect our healthcare heroes with the necessary personal protective equipment,” said CEO Glen Giovanucci.

Fox River Used Cupron To Make Masks

Sock maker Fox River/Red Lion began making face masks using a powerful antimicrobial technology called Cupron that never washes out. The design of these masks is ingenious, chief merchant Scott Little said, explaining that they are made on traditional Circular Knit sock machines.

“We are the first to create a wearable mask on a sock machine — no cut and sew,” he said. “Each mask is seamless and comes off the machine as a whole garment. No sewing or additional labor, which means less people are handling the product by hand in our factory. They go straight from the machine into our protective poly bag packaging and then shipped to the customer.” This masks are knit in Osage, IA, using Cupron fibers, a copper-based antimicrobial technology that is embedded in garments. The technology provides anti-odor and antibacterial benefits to the embedded fabric. Unlike topically applied solutions, the Cupron technology does not wash off or rub off. Cupron polyester kills bacteria, fungus and microbes on the mask that cause odor. In addition to the Cupron technology, the stretchy, lightweight design of the C156n FlexFit Mask helps eliminate the discomfort behind the ears by slipping over the head instead of behind the ears. The mask is machine washable and the Cupron protection does not wash out.

Delta, Gildan Also Started Making Masks

Delta Apparel, parent company of Soffe, also joined a coalition of apparel brands that responded to calls for companies to help produce face masks during the COVID-19 global pandemic. “We are extremely proud to offer the resources we have available for the manufacture of face masks to help support those hospitals and health care workers on the front lines, as well as all Americans battling the spread of COVID-19,” said Robert Humphreys, Delta Apparel’s chairman and CEO. Similarly, Gildan joined forces with various partners to produce non-medical face masks and isolation gowns. The company mobilized a team of experts to develop and implement stringent processes to protect employees coming back to work.“We are committed to playing a proactive role in the global fight against this pandemic,” the company said. “Thank you to our partners … and especially our facility workers who have agreed to work during this difficult time.”

Big Brand Efforts

Russell Athletic expanded its Hope for Hospitals initiative by dedicating up to $700,000 of product donations for the duration of the campaign. Launched in March, the initiative has been donating everyday essentials to hospital staff across the country. After closely monitoring the situation on the frontlines and speaking to healthcare workers across the country, Russell Athletic assessed a need in daily essentials including zip-up sweatshirts and hoodies, T-shirts and sweatpants medical staff can easily change into and out of. Starting May 5, Russell Athletic committed to donating from its core product line for every item sold.

Bauer, the hockey equipment manufacturer, shifted its focus from equipment that serves players on the ice to materials such as masks and shields for medical professionals as the world fought the coronavirus pandemic

Fanatics, which makes the official uniforms of Major League Baseball, halted jersey production and repurposed its manufacturing plant to make masks and gowns. The masks and gowns are made with the exact same jersey fabric that the players wear on the field..

New Balance committed $2 million in non-profit grants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support local, regional and global communities. The funds were allocated to Global Giving, No Kid Hungry The Boston Resiliency Fund, Groundwork Lawrence, Good Shepherd Food Bank in Maine, the St. Louis Area Foodbank and many others.

Under Armour donated $1 million to Good Sports’ efforts in supplying youth leagues with sufficient equipment, footwear and apparel. This was implemented after users joined Under Armour’s 30-day fitness challenge on their MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun applications. The company also donated $1 million to Feeding America to help their efforts in supplying hunger relief to those affected by school closures and quarantine measures.

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