Rapidly growing Nufabrx opens Innovation Center at Bossong
Posted September 24, 2020
By Devin Steele (DSteele@eTextileCommunications.com)
ASHEBORO, N.C. – Jordan Schindler, founder and CEO of “healthwear” provider Nufabrx, already was seeing his company experience explosive growth early this year when its products had reached the shelves of all Walmart stores in March.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
But that didn’t cloud the company’s vision for continued expansion. In fact, the crisis presented new opportunities, he said – and Nufabrx answered the call.
“While a lot of people were being more conservative and pulling back, we were trying to take an opposite approach,” said Schindler, whose company, with partner Bossong Hosiery, jumped into the production of copper-infused and later shea butter-infused face masks, with tremendous success. “Our Walmart buyer said it best. He said that 98 percent of people are being conservative right now, which leaves a lot of opportunities. We're in a fortunate position that we can go after those and be aggressive.”
And that they did. While on an upward trajectory, the company, based at the Manufacturing Solutions Center (MSC) at Catawba Valley Community College in Conover, N.C., is scaling accordingly. Not only has Nufabrx grown from eight employees pre-pandemic to about 30 today – in addition to four physicians who serve as advisors – but last week, it cut the ribbon on its Nufabrx Innovation Center here.
The center, housed in a “cleanroom” inside Bossong Hosiery, will allow the company to embed various ingredients into yarns onsite before they are knitted in the same facility. Nufabrx is a proprietary biomaterial platform that embeds active ingredients into fabrics, and these active ingredients can be programmed to respond to the body for predictable, effective and long-lasting dermal release. The company has embedded such ingredients as pain relievers (capsaicin, CBD oil) and sleep aids (melatonin) into yarns for garments.
Bossong has served as Nufabrx’s manufacturing partner for several years, and it made sense that Nufabrx have a presence in Asheboro, located about an hour-and-a-half drive from Conover, Schindler said.
“We're so excited about our partnership with Bossong,” he said. “It really wouldn't be possible without them. We were trying to figure out where to locate, and what makes sense is right here. We are fortunate that they gave us this space. We add the ingredients into the yarn in the cleanroom and can walk down the hallway and drop it in a knitting machine. So you talk about the supply chain being close together. It just made sense rather than trying to ship yarn here.”
About 10 Nufabrx employees will be based here on three shifts, and their job will be to create what the company calls “active yarn,” he said.
“Our team is such an interesting mix of textile experts and MIT scientists, Ph.D.’s and drug-delivery scientists,” Schindler said. “We're really merging those together to create value, because on one side you need to know about drug delivery and how much active ingredients to deliver to the skin. You have to provide the same dose as any other topical analgesic like a cream or pill. And then on the other side, you have to knit it into a sock or garment and have it still stretch and feel like a normal garment. So it is a higher-end skillset that's very unique in what we're doing.”
Nufabrx’s “healthwear” category has gained tremendous traction since Schindler founded the company as Textile-Based Delivery, Inc. (TexDel) in 2011, subsequently being awarded federal seed money that allowed the company to grow. Nufabrx was created after he discovered his pillowcase was contributing to his acne. Teaming up with MIT scientists, he spent seven years developing proprietary technology to embed active ingredients into yarn itself to make medicinal application easier and more efficient. He moved the business cross country from Seattle to the MSC as an incubator in 2016.
“There is a huge correlation between people buying braces and pain relief creams,” he said. “Why not couple those two things together and create value there? So you have one product in one package at a cheaper cost than buying two things. And you don't have to remember to take any action. We all get dressed every morning. I think one of the things that's been exciting for us is our ability to simplify health and wellness. It's this idea that you don't have to remember to use a cream or a patch or take a pill – you just get dressed in the morning.”
While it already had numerous product expansion plans in its sights, the pandemic opened the eyes of Schindler and his team to a world of possibilities, he said.
“We've been fortunate,” Schindler said. “I think a lot of it is the made-in-America, U.S. manufacturing aspect that has allowed us to scale U.S. supply chains very quickly. Part of the reason I think the world got into this pandemic problem with PPE is that a lot of it was made overseas. And in 48 hours we were able to develop and launch a mask product because our suppliers are here, the know-how is here and the manufacturers are here. It's all in North Carolina, and it really wouldn't have been possible anywhere else.
“But that's what's allowed us to scale and grow the business because the expertise is all here, so we can continue to build and grow very quickly versus dealing with global supply chain issues,” he added.
In May, the D.C. National Guard ordered Black Hawk helicopters to the Asheboro Regional Airport to transport 250,000 PPE masks that were manufactured by the Nufabrx and Bossong.
Hand in hand with Nufabrx’s growth is its rapid rise on social media and other channels, particularly as shopping methods continue to rapidly evolve during the COVID-19 crisis, Schindler said. As such, he hired eight marketing professionals to step up its promotional efforts, he said.
“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that you have to be able react quickly, and you have be able to pivot and change plans,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone. I think the pandemic has upended all of our traditional thoughts on media and on retail. Retail foot traffic is down a huge percentage. Some big-name stores are going out of business. So for us that means we need to focus on e-commerce, where we can reach the consumer quickly. So we have been investing heavily in our marketing team to meet consumers where they are shopping.”
Not only will Nufabrx maintain a presence at the MSC, but it also will expand its footprint there on the growing campus, Schindler said.
“We're going to build our R&D center there, and we're also looking at having a retail store front there,” he said. “Imagine a consumer coming in and ordering a product, have a glass of champagne, then have their pain-relief sock custom made while they're there.”
“We're really trying to reimagine what the textile industry looks like,” he added. “And that's all related to being within the Conover/Manufacturing Solutions Center ecosystem, because they have all the expertise and resources. So we'll always try to maintain a presence there because that's what got us to where we are today.”