Strategies

Covid Baby Chronicles

NexTex Innovations launched a mask program with TurboDry technology.
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Every business has a pandemic story to tell. Most of the time these tales from the trenches have a similar narrative; execs describe well-established routines that pivoted to new ways to run the company. But there are companies, specifically startups that navigated 2020-2021 as newborn brands, with a different account of the pandemic experience. We reached out to execs at NexTex Innovations, Forloh and RUX to learn the challenges they faced and key strategies that nurtured growth as young companies. Here are their “Covid “Baby” stories: 

NexTex Innovations 

Born: November 2019, Atlanta, GA

Business: Textile technology solutions provider 

Storytellers: Chad Lawrence, CEO; Jordan Lightstone, Marketing/Business Development 

“We went to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in January 2020 with eight fabrics. That’s pretty much all we had at the time. We were in the very early stages of getting in front of customers and introducing our TurboDry technology. We had a great show, and it was full steam ahead – traveling to have meetings – until it all came to a screeching halt.”

Piles of headers, packing slips and mailing labels took over Lawrence’s home so that NexTex could continue to send out information to new contacts; packages included a water bottle so recipients could test TurboDry performance wicking for themselves. 

Despite shutdowns due to Covid, during that time, NexTex was able to forge a new brand partner in a new market with a new technology. Their mask program with Athleta came together very quickly thanks to contacts of NexTex mill partner Best Pacific. The product featured an innovative three-layer construction including NexTex’s new Particle Screen technology in addition to its signature TurboDry technology. The Athleta Activate Mask, a high-end product developed to be functional and comfortable worn during exercise, had a successful six month run and established a solid partnership.

“Looking back on that experience now I see how important it was because it built confidence. It proved we had the ability to commercialize a premium product, and leverage our technology. Also it helped set a model for building good partner relationships – how to work together and innovate, and what role we play in that process.”

Another key development followed. “One of the biggest wins as a company during the pandemic was winning an Innovation Award from Outdoor Retailer in Winter, 2021. There was no physical show, so we communicated our story in digital format. This was happening in a time when you needed to be differentiated to stand out because innovation was shutting down. So we focused on TurboDry, which is an extremely differentiated technology.” 

“All along we kept working very hard building our offering to customers, and have grown from eight fabrics to over 140 fabric constructions and 20-30 elastic constructions. The challenge at the start was that the whole product development process was delayed a year. Many brand partners delayed the technologies until they were ready and able to green light new product development. Now it’s like a new wave of excitement in the sense that some of the teams are set to go while some brands are just seeing TurboDry. What was a negative is now a positive.” 

Forloh is committed to U.S. make for technical hunt and fishing apparel.

Forloh

Born: July 2019, Whitefish, MT

Product: Made in USA technical clothing and gear for hunting and fishing 

Storyteller: Robert Yturri, Chief Product Officer

“Pre-Covid we were working with Brookwood and Everest USA and things were in motion with our supply chain for fabric. Then on March 13, 2020, I’m getting calls that we are in full stop because factory workers can’t, or aren’t allowed, to go to work.  

We had 500,000 yards of 70d shadowbox ripstop from Brookwood that we were contemplating for gear bags, backpacks, bivy packs, etc. I had an idea that now maybe the best way forward is to be a helper. I learn what the best medical gown is for first responders on the market, and test this fabric to confirm if it can meet an FDA equivalent, for level 1-2 fabric and if so, let’s use this for pandemic effort, rather than holding onto it for bags and packs down the line. 

It’s in geiges condition, so it was already white, and Merrow, based in Massachusetts, is already a factory partner. We had just shown them the 3-layer fabrics we’re building, and they were going to start development on a rain shell for Forloh, when it all went dark.  

We decide if we can start making gowns, then workers can get back into the factory, which also allows us to also keep pushing our hunting line along in a tiny sample room. About a dozen manufacturers along with cut and sew people and raw material people were able to continue working. We leaned on knit factories for rib, and woven factories for other needs and had enough to keep everyone humming. 

We were ready and able to help. We made a good gown design, talked with governors and knew we could make gowns in a quick turnaround.  We landed 52-week contracts with the State of Rhode Island and the State of Massachusetts. So, what started as a tiny effort turned into a 4M gown business in four weeks. And all in all, a total of between 2200-2250 people continued to work. It was all PPE, only management worked on hunting.

This kicked us into a new level. We created our own company Merrow Forloh Medical, a website that is still live. I am serving as chief of procurement, Charlie Merrow as chief of sales, and Andy Techmanski, Forloh CEO and founder, is in charge of finance. We have boxes of gowns and will take orders. 

I actually loved this fire drill because now my factories are not surprised when I come in and ask for something. It really reinforced our partnerships because they were humming and making money while the competition was shut down. 

Our team has taken a fresh look at what a U.S. supply chain looks like. And finding ways to make it work for us.” 

RUX modular systems are adaptable to wildly different activity needs. 

RUX 

Born: Fall 2020, Squamish, BC

Product: Modular System to Manage Gear 

Storytellers: Tony Richardson, Andre Charland

Tony: “We were able to get samples made but just in the nick of time. There was not much delay out of Vietnam for our first production run but there was a one month delay on the boat. Product made it to our LA warehouse relatively on time, but not to Vancouver. 

Our second order arrived in Vancouver about a week after our first order showed up. Which was kind of weird. Instead of 90 days apart it was one week. I remember the delivery guy called – and we were like, ‘What? You’re back?’ 

When we wanted to place another order the Vietnam factory shut down. Covid had caught up with them, and the factory closed for five months. That threw everything off. So the third production run showed up around ten months after our first production run. 

From the beginning we knew we wanted a burly, waterproof, TPU dry bag type material. I had worked with some suppliers in Taiwan previously, and knew that’s a hub for technical fabrics. I contacted Cathay, and they had a lot of yardage in stock. Basically, we choose the fabric we now use in part because that’s what was available.” 

Andre: “Our crowdfunding was underway when the delays hit. During this tumultuous time, the only thing we did was keep selling pre-orders with the caveat that you wouldn’t get your order for months! Most people were okay with that. It led to 30-50 percent of typical in-stock service. It was a reduction in revenue, but it was revenue. 

Up until a few weeks ago, we only had inventory for six or seven weeks of our business. All the pre-sale inventory comes in and goes right out. It blew out in Fall of 2021, and now finally, we got ahead of it. Actually it’s a nice feeling to have product to sell now. 

Our original plan was to be a direct-to-consumer e-commerce business but now we are at least 30 percent wholesale. We’re glad we went that way. We’re expanding retail partners all the time, it’s a big growing focus for us. We have a few dozen – all specialty shops – and we’ll be launching with REI and MEC, this Fall. 

Compared to more established businesses, most startups that have survived the pandemic have done okay, or even better than okay. Your expectations are, ‘It’s only upwards from here.’ 

We definitely contemplated in the summer 2020 delaying launch until Covid was over. Good thing we didn’t do that, because we’d still be waiting!” 

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Jul 11, 2022

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