Retailers lead mask production to combat COVID-19

Retooling facilities and reorienting workers to deliver a new product on short notice requires cross-team collaboration
Karlie Frank
Director, Special Projects and Executive Communications
April 13, 2020

Retailers are working closely with the communities they serve all over the world to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The need for the industry’s support is growing and urgent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending everyone wear a face mask in public to contain the spread of germs. In addition to the medical-grade personal protective equipment many retailers have been making for hospitals and health care providers, there is now demand for non-medical grade masks for the general public.

Coronavirus Resources

NRF is closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic. For updated information and guidance for retailers, check out our resource page. 

Retailers are answering the call to make and sell or donate masks, but it can’t happen successfully without thorough planning, particularly for large companies with a national footprint and hundreds of stores. Retooling manufacturing facilities and reorienting workers to deliver a new product on short notice requires cross-team collaboration among alterations, supply chain, stores and corporate employees, as well as suppliers and other partners.

Here’s how some retailers are pivoting operations to contribute.

Converting factories                                                                                

Companies with factories in the United States are well-positioned to help. Brooks Brothers has converted its New York, North Carolina and Massachusetts factories from manufacturing ties, shirts and suits to making masks and gowns, with plans to produce up to 150,000 masks per day. Factory personnel returned to their jobs last week following a two-week precautionary self-quarantine. Federal guidelines for sanitation and social distancing will be enforced on-site at all facilities to protect employees.

“We consider this a duty, and part of our DNA at Brooks Brothers,” said CEO Claudio Del Vecchio. “These are challenging times that are impacting us all. We are deeply grateful to the medical personnel on the front lines who are fighting the pandemic, and we are honored to do our part and join our peers in retail to provide protective masks that our health care system critically needs."

Sustainable apparel brand Reformation teamed up with the City of Los Angeles and Mayor Eric Garcetti on LA Protects, an initiative to organize local manufacturers to make 5 million non-medical masks. Reformation is making masks in its factory using fabrics from its warehouse and recruiting other L.A. garment manufacturers to do the same.

Mask specifications and guidance

Masks should be made in tight-weaved, high-thread count fabrics lined with three layers, and must be washable for daily use. The CDC is expected to release official mask production guidelines soon; in the meantime, retailers can find a pattern here and seek guidance from textile experts.

Brooks Brothers worked with leading universities in textiles and technology to develop a prototype and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expedite the approval process. Nordstrom, the largest employer of tailors in America, partnered with upholstery manufacturer Kaas Tailored, Providence Health & Services and Ascension healthcare to have members of its alteration teams in Washington, Oregon, Texas, California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Florida sew nearly 1 million masks.


The impact of the virus is not spread evenly throughout the country and some areas have been hit harder than others. It’s important for retailers to find a distribution partner they trust or determine on their own how to quickly and safely deliver supplies to groups that need the most help.

Nordstrom believes its most important responsibility as a company is giving back to the diverse communities it serves “While this is something that we do year-round,” said Gigi Ganatra, vice president of corporate affairs and public relations, “in times of emergency, this belief takes on an even bigger responsibility, and in this case, a global one.” Masks will be distributed to and sanitized by Providence Health & Services, which is running the 100 Million Mask Challenge, and Ascension, one of the largest hospital systems in the U.S.

Reformation is working with homeless shelters in Los Angeles to distribute to local high-risk populations in need.

Call to action for consumers

While consumers are looking to retailers to step up in the effort to create more PPE products, retailers can inspire and mobilize consumers seeking ways to contribute.

Reformation treats masks on its website as it does any other item — with their own product page, including details on fabric, care and usage. Shoppers can buy masks for themselves or donate to people in need. By making masks available in a channel that consumers are already accustomed to shopping, Reformation increases the chance of more people making a purchase or donation.

In partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, NRF is urging capable retailers to begin producing masks to sell or donate immediately. For more information about designing and producing PPE products, click here. If your company has the capacity to assist with this public health crisis, FEMA has created a website with more information.


NRF is closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic, coordinating with government agencies, health experts and retailers as the situation continues to evolve. For updated information and guidance for retailers, check out our resource page. 

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