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Local Outdoor Gear Companies Work Together To Make Protective Equipment For WNC

Courtesy of Kitsbow
Kitsbow employees sews masks at the company's factory in Old Fort.

A cooperative effort of Western North Carolina outdoor gear companies will bring personal protective equipment to local healthcare workers.

In Old Fort, about 30 employees have been working around the clock at Kitsbow’s factory which just opened 5 months ago. 

You can hear the whirring of a mechanical tool. That’s a computer controlled fabric cutter. Until recently, the machine made high end cycling clothing explains CEO David Billstorm. Now it’s cutting layers of fabric to make face masks and other Personal Protective Equipment, known as PPE. 

Credit Courtesy of Kitsbow
This is the computer controlling the fabric cutter to make PPE face masks.

“We’re making shirts, one perfect shirt at a time. We don’t make 300 left sleeves then 300 right sleeves. So we are doing the same thing with the masks,” says Billstorm.

Billstorm has worked in venture capital for years but he has also spent the last 38 years as a first responder. He explains that the switch for the company to PPE happened less than two weeks ago. 

“So I reached out to my first responder friends here in Western North Carolina and asked  if this would be of any assistance and they said, “Send as much as you can, as fast as you can,” says Billstorm.  

Kitsbow is a part of Outdoor Gear Builders, a collaborative of Western North Carolina outdoor gear manufacturers. Others include Industry Nine, Watershed and Oowee.  Each is working with Kitsbow to produce PPE faster. Together they hope to make half a million face shields per month for Western North Carolina soon.

Dogwood Health Trust, the foundation created when HCA purchased Mission Health, announced last week it would spend $10 million to fight COVID-19 in the region. Dogwood is now working with all of these companies to purchase the PPE and distribute it to local organizations, explains Billstrom. 

"I’m very impressed with the speed and thoughtfulness that Antony and the rest of the Dogwood crew have pursued this strategy,” says Billstrom.  

Tom Dempsey is president of SylvanSport, a founding member of Outdoor Gear Builders. The Brevard-based company is also working with Dogwood Health Trust to distribute PPE. 

“How can we put our team to use to meet the need that is out there right now?,” explains Dempsey.

Dempsey adds SylvanSport is also using its international supply chain to bring tyvek suits and N95 masks to the region.  They are also rethinking some of their current products like a mobile camper. 

“We shifted the use of our mobile shelters that we usually use for camping and made them available for any type of triage or medical testing type need,” says Dempsey. 

Right now both Kitsbow and SylvanSports are focusing their products on Western North Carolina. Once those needs are met they will expand across the country. If you are a medical professional who needs to purchase PPE you can reach out to  info@kitsbow.com or ppe@sylvansport.com respectively. 

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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