It’s probably safe to say Stan Jewell never thought he’d run a company on course to become one of the world’s largest producers of masks. But then again, these aren’t ordinary times.
Stan Jewell is CEO and president of The Renfro Corporation. It’s a nearly 100-year-old sock manufacturer based in Mount Airy.
It also has 5,500 employees around the world and is the world’s largest manufacturers of socks that are sold under various brand names, ranging from Fruit of the Loom to Polo-Ralph Lauren to Carhartt to Keds to New Balance to Merrill and even Dr. Scholl’s.
Just a little more than a month ago, Renfro started noticing an interruption in its manufacturing and supply chain in China due to the coronavirus.
Then when “stay-at-home” orders became commonplace in the United States, its retail business started suffering.
But then Jewell began collaborating with experts at Wake Forest Baptist Health to design and manufacture what the company calls “Nightingale” masks as part of Winston-Salem’s “Mask the City” initiative.
The goal: provide masks for everyone (all 248,000 people) in the city to wear for 40 days.
Although it’s generating new business at a time when Renfro really needs it, this hasn’t come without challenges.
“We sell to a large scale retailers like Walmart, Target, Kohl’s. We sell to department stores like Macy’s and Neiman Marcus, Lord and Taylor. Practically all of that dried up almost instantaneously,” Jewell said. “Really the only customers that we have are doing significant volume are those large retailers, Walmart and Target. Amazon is still doing business with us. Costco to a smaller extent. And then our econ business is still okay.”