HomTex begins production of filtered face masks at Cullman facility

Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs, Jeremy Wooten and Sen. Garlan Gudger watch HomTex employee Marilyn Kelso sew a mask. (Photo courtesy of Dale Greer/CEDA)

Updated 4-3-20 at 5:07 p.m.

CULLMAN, Ala. – On Friday, Cullman-based textile manufacturer HomTex announced that its Cullman facility will begin producing a reusable and washable face mask for use by businesses and industries under the brand name DreamFit. The masks will be available starting next week.

The DreamFit mask contains a permanent filter which has a Bacteria Filtration Efficiency (BFE) rating of 95%. In lab testing, a sampling of the masks scored 96-97.6%.

DreamFit masks will be made in small, medium and large sizes, and will be sold for $4 per mask with discounts offered for orders of 100 or more. Information on ordering and lab testing for the mask is available at www.dreamfitfacemask.com. The mask is not currently FDA-approved for health care workers, but can have widespread business, industrial and public health applications.

Local businesses and industries were offered the first opportunity to place orders for the masks before HomTex/DreamFit made them available on the general market. The first orders will be available on Tuesday, April 7. HomTex expects to produce between 50,000 and 70,000 masks per week.

HomTex has been in business in the Cullman area since 1987, producing textiles under its own name plus multiple brand names for the housewares market plus apparel, hospitality and automotive industries. In addition to its headquarters and production center here, the family-owned company now has facilities in North and South Carolina, along with offices in China and India. DreamFit masks will be made in Cullman.

Wooten talked The Tribune about getting into the mask business:

“The main reason is that we not only saw a need, but it was becoming quite clear from speaking with local officials like Mayor (Woody) Jacobs and Dale Greer and Senator (Garlan) Gudger that the local industry and the state was not prepared, in the sense of having the face masks. The need was probably greater than we realized.

“We do a little medical business: we manufacture hospital pillows and we do a little bit in the fabrics. We were a little familiar with it and we knew there was going to be a need. But I think over the last week or two weeks, I think people didn’t realize how big a need, and we certainly didn’t. And then all the issues that surround what the Chinese is doing and what they’re allowing to come out of the country. I think one thing that’s become obvious is people have seen, for particular textile products and especially medical protective gear, how much of us are dependent on foreign production, especially China.”

Wooten said that officials made him aware that a need also existed among local businesses and industries, explaining, “They made us really aware how really necessary the private industry need was, and that’s what we didn’t really see.”

Wooten added a second reason for the company’s shift: “We realized that we were uniquely prepared to make a product that we were not familiar with, and that’s a washable, reusable face mask. So, as we began to talk to people week before last, we learned more and more about how we know the disposables are in great need, but a lot of private industry wants something they can take home and wash, and reuse for longer use, especially when you have a limited capacity.

“So we’re primarily a home textile manufacturer, so we’re unique in that we have a large stock of sheeting fabric, cotton goods in the country, probably one of the few people in the country who hold as much fabric: a couple of million yards of cotton sheeting fabric at any given time. And we had the machinery. 

“And we sat down- I have a good staff- and we designed what we thought was a comfortable, usable, reusable, washable face mask. And, in a few days, we had something put together and, after showing it around earlier this week, the feedback was fantastic. And because of what we do in the medical world, we were able to secure the BFE-95 bacterial filtration equipment- and a lot of people probably can’t; it’s in high demand, but because of our relationships, we were able to. And so, we’ve been uniquely positioned to produce this product.”

Wooten reported that HomTex’s entire first week’s production has already been pre-sold to 60 local industries and businesses. 

Said Wooten, “We want to be good stewards and good community partners, so we’re prioritizing our production for local needs. But outside, the news has traveled quite quickly. I’m getting calls from all over the Southeast, and presently, my order demand far outstrips my capacity.”

HomTex started production in Cullman, but huge demand already has the company gearing up at its other facilities. Its Tennessee facility will shift to mask production next week, followed by its North and South Carolina facilities the following week. 

Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Dale Greer applauded the response of HomTex, saying, “We always talk about the skills and the abilities of manufacturers and how quickly they can adapt to things. And you think about this: last week they were producing sheets and pillow cases in Cullman; starting Monday, they’ll do nothing but face masks. They won’t do any sheets or pillow cases; they’ll be trying to address a crisis in our county, and our state and our country, and maybe beyond that. Just think about how quickly they can make an adjustment like that and how good that is.”

Greer also commended the cooperative efforts of HomTex with the city and state governments, noting, “There were a number of people who helped make that happen: on the local level the mayor, Sen. Gudger and the local legislative delegation. But that expands to the state level: Secretary (of Commerce Greg) Canfield, the governor, the lieutenant governor; everybody talking about those processes and allowing them to make those changes. We’re dealing with (U.S. Rep. Robert) Aderholt’s office.

“There’s a filter inside that mask, but currently it is not FDA-approved. But we’re trying to see what that process would be to look at that. But things like that don’t happen without you having a number of government people at a number of levels trying to get the attention focused on it much quicker than normally occurs in a process when you’re dealing with government.”

Greer boasted about “How many people are trying to work together to make all of these things happen, and I just think it is such a testament to that company and to this community, and how they’ll just shift in a week to do something that’s protecting people.”

On Friday afternoon, Gudger told The Tribune, “This is a perfect example of private-public partnership that will help bring industry and jobs back to the U.S. from overseas! This local, state and federal collaboration is the type of entrepreneur spirit that makes Alabama a great place to live!

“I would like to thank Jennifer Taylor from Robert Aderholt’s Office and our state delegation: Rep. Randall Shedd, Rep. Corey Harbison and Rep Scott Stadthagen in helping in this venture!”

If you are interested in ordering DreamFit masks, contact HomTex at 877-373-2634, email  the company at facemask@dreamfit.com or visit  www.dreamfitfacemask.com.

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Photo courtesy of HomTex/Dreamfit

W.C. Mann