Director of Production
Kitsbow, Old Fort, N.C.
When did you start in the textile industry?
I started working in a fabric store right out of college in 2007 (Hart’s Fabrics in Santa Cruz, Calif.), which introduced me to understanding more about material sourcing, the sustainability of fabrics and really getting a broad view of the domestic retail industry at whole. My experience in sewing was completely DIY and self-taught but I learned the bulk of apparel construction techniques from following patterns and the insight from folks I worked with at the fabric stores. It was definitely one of the most influential jobs I ever had and set me off on a career path I never dreamed of, and definitely didn’t study in college.
What is your background?
After working my way through fabric stores, I started working in the customs program with a San Francisco-based messenger bag company called Chrome Industries, in 2012. Here I learned the whole process of product development starting from the concept and brainstorming phase to prototyping and material sourcing, to finalizing the design, and finally getting to production. I had never before appreciated all the time, energy and work that goes into designing even the simplest product! From there, I worked for several more bag companies as a pattern maker/product developer in the Bay Area, before getting back to my true passion of apparel with Kitsbow!
What types of products does your company specifically produce and what types of end products are they used in?
Kitsbow is known for its high-end cycling apparel and most recently its pivot to PPE production. When we moved to Old Fort, N.C., from California, we completely redesigned the way we made our products. Our factory and made-to-order process allows us to make better products more efficiently – and we’ve been doing just that.
What does your job mean to you, your family and your community?
My job wouldn’t exist without our talented team of people. When we first made the move, I was tasked with teaching our team of makers how to sew, some of which had never used sewing machines before. When COVID hit, our demand for PPE soared and we went from eight makers to a team of 25. We’ve also seen the same rapid growth in other departments of our company. A lot has changed since March! It’s been amazing how many jobs we’ve seen created since we moved here, both through Kitsbow and the other companies that have taken to calling Old Fort their home as well. Accomplishing this much in such a short amount of time has been a team effort and being part of this revitalization of the Old Fort community is truly priceless.
What is your role in producing PPE products or inputs for these products for your company?
When we first started with PPE, from day one, most of the company started making face shields. The design team broke off and started prototyping masks. Within four days we were in mask production. I was responsible for all of the hiring and training to start. Due to our rapid and continued growth, we amassed a very talented team, and have since promoted more folks to help with management and training. At this point, I’m still involved with hiring and general oversight of PPE, but with the support of my assistant manager, Lucy, who is also the lead for PPE, I mostly focus on the next apparel products we are going to bring in-house to continue to grow our Old Fort Made offerings.
How does it feel to have your company step up to address the PPE shortage during the pandemic?
Humbling – the transition happened so fast and we were all grateful to not only still have jobs, but to be creating them. Every single day was a whirlwind but we all went home feeling really proud of the work we’re doing and its impact on the community. Seeing everyone come together to equip medical workers and first responders with PPE was amazing.
Why is it important for textiles to be made/cut and sewn and/or finished in America?
Kitsbow is on a journey toward an apparel future that is circular. By utilizing a made-to-order manufacturing model, we have been able to reduce waste and put an emphasis on sustainability. With production lines in-house, staffed by our people, we’re creating a deeper connection and more personalized experience with both the product and the person making it. Not to mention creating lots of local jobs! This also allows us to be incredibly nimble with color and style offerings.
Since 2012 Kitsbow has committed to making the best cycling apparel possible – making the apparel it often couldn't find itself. In March, the company was one of the first to pivot to making PPE before there was a vaccine; before there was a test; before there was PPE for critical care medical providers and first responders. Kitsbow decided to quickly pivot its production to make reusable face masks because there was an acute need, and the company thought it could leverage the fit and performance of its apparel toward a better mask.
Since then, in collaboration with public health specialists, including Wake Forest Baptist Health, its product experts designed face masks that deliver all-day comfort and protection, especially for frontline workers in critical industries.
Kitsbow has now shipped 151,910 units of masks and face shields in the U.S. from a cold start on March 21 – and they are an apparel company.
In March, Kitsbow stopped making apparel and “it was the right thing to do.” The company instead became a key supplier of commercially manufactured, made-in-the-USA PPE. However, in July, it carved space to reintroduce one apparel style (while continuing to make masks 100%). It started by making its most difficult product: the best-fitting, best-looking outdoor wool shirt, it Icon Shirt. And it proved very hard to make. But its persistence paid off, and Kitsbow now makes the highest quality Icons, ever!
(Today, Kitsbow is making nearly 20 styles, all made in the U.S. at its home in Old Fort, N.C.)