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Sock Manufacturer Renfro Teams Up With Wake Forest Baptist Health to Produce COVID-19 Frontline-Approved Face Masks

May 01, 2020

The largest sock maker in the United States is on its way to becoming one of the country’s largest face mask manufacturers as COVID-19 continues to drive demand for personal protective equipment (PPE).

Mount Airy, N.C.-based Renfro, which produces 20% of all socks purchased in the U.S., teamed with Wake Forest Baptist Health to design the Nightingale™ WS Protective Mask for Winston-Salem’s "Mask the City" initiative to slow the spread of the virus and is now scaling up production for a new e-commerce site expected to launch May 7, 2020.

“When we decided in the early stages of the pandemic to redirect our manufacturing to produce face masks, we knew we wanted to collaborate with the medical community,” said Stan Jewell, president and CEO, Renfro. “It was important for us to meet the specific needs of healthcare professionals working on the front lines every day.”

Dr. Bill Satterwhite, chief wellness officer at Wake Forest Baptist Health, designed the prototype in partnership with the Renfro team. Hospital staff then wear-tested the Nightingale and provided feedback.

“The nurses and doctors we talked to said all-day comfort was their top priority,” Jewell said. “They want the masks they’re wearing for hours at a time to be soft, breathable, stretchable and adjustable. Many masks are uncomfortable and can leave markings on the face and even cause allergic reactions – things we didn’t think about at first. We took their comments into account and ended up with what we believe is the perfect mask.”

Less than 30 days after Dr. Satterwhite sketched out the design, Renfro was producing the Nightingale masks – which include LYCRA® fiber for stretch and recovery benefits – at its Mount Airy plant using existing sock-knitting machinery. The company sponsored the initial run of 300,000 to the Mask the City program at a deeply discounted cost. Winston-Salem residents can get the masks for free through businesses, churches or local nonprofits who participated in the Mask The City initiative.

And starting next week, individuals and businesses can order the masks in 24-unit and 96-unit packs at NightingaleSafe.com.

Currently, about one-third of Renfro’s manufacturing resources are dedicated to making the one-size-fits-all masks, and the company soon will be able to produce up to 1 million per day to meet mounting demand. Fabric is being produced at Renfro facilities in Cleveland, Tenn. and Fort Payne, Ala.

“The Nightingale project shows that, as a U.S. manufacturer, we can innovate quickly and take an agile approach to production, sales and distribution,” Jewell said. “COVID-19 has permanently altered the retail manufacturing environment.  The need for companies to be able to move quickly and nimbly to deliver quality products that meet customer needs has never been greater.”

LYCRA® fiber is a trademark of The LYCRA Company.