How One Apparel Company Dropped Everything to Help During COVID-19

BELLA+CANVAS, the second-largest apparel manufacturer in the world, is known for its premium quality, buttery soft clothing used by brands around the world. Based in Los Angeles, the company was born when two high school friends were sick of the plethora of ill-fitting and feeling off-the-shelf garments. Their solution? A retail-quality apparel business for the print-to-wear market, with superior craftsmanship and quality. Fast forward twenty-five years and BELLA+CANVAS continues to lead the industry, one well-crafted t-shirt at a time.

Shifting From T-Shirts to Masks

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S., the CDC suggested that everyone start wearing a face covering to slow the spread of the disease. There was just one problem – a huge shortage of face masks. 

BELLA+CANVAS saw an opportunity to support those worried about their health, and immediately stepped up. Summer Barry, Vice President of Marketing for the clothing brand, said that its L.A. manufacturing facility shifted overnight from producing t-shirts to cloth face masks.

“We heard of the shortage of masks and the CDC suggestion of a simple face covering for people going out in public and we saw an opportunity to help. We stopped making t-shirts immediately and started making masks. We were running 24/7 for about six weeks; we had never done that before,” says Barry.

The masks that BELLA+CANVAS makes are a cut-only, no-sew design, produced from only one piece of fabric. The company chose this design so they could get them to market as quickly as possible.

“We are really well suited for the mask operation. No one can do it at our scale; we have the capacity to make 100 million masks per week,” says Barry. 

Watch the video of BELLA+CANVAS’ mask operation

There are two face mask design options for the cut-only mask, one in the original tee shirt material and one in a heavier, sweatshirt material. Consumers are able to choose which mask works for them based on preference and usage. 

“The purpose of the mask is to reduce transmission and protect other people. Our lightweight fabric is great for everyday wear, for going into retail environments, as well as when running or walking outside,” says Barry. 

The 100 million face masks being produced per week are sold in retail packages at stores like Target and Office Depot, as well as in bulk orders to large corporations, like food service companies. BELLA+CANVAS has also donated five million masks to different organizations and communities to help those most in need and to spread the word about the importance of wearing face coverings during this pandemic.

The Challenge in Finding a Face Mask Packaging Manufacturer

BELLA+CANVAS had the manufacturing ability to run at full speed and produce millions of masks, but the company ran into a packaging problem. Since the company specializes in making t-shirts for bulk wholesale orders, it wasn’t prepared to start turning out a packaged retail product. 

“The huge bottleneck was the packaging,” says Barry. “I didn’t know much about it, but I learned quickly that the average lead time for retail packaging is six weeks. But that just wasn’t an option with what we were doing. There was a real shortage of masks in America, and six weeks wasn’t going to cut it. We had to do something quicker than what’s ‘typical.’ “

The Ideal Packaging Partner 

What they needed was a packaging partner who could match them for quantity and speed, without skimping on presentation. It was once BELLA+CANVAS was introduced to ePac Flexible Packaging that the face mask packaging design plans started to come together.

“We were really fortunate to find ePac! They could turn the packages around super-fast… ePac has been great about being flexible with ordering. We feel like a top priority client, which is great. It’s all new to us and they have explained the process to us. We’ve had many changes, but they’ve been patient. Overall, it’s been really great,” says Barry.

ePac was able to produce and ship the packages out to BELLA+CANVAS in a fraction of the time that other suppliers were quoting. Now each of the brand’s masks is packaged in ePac’s matte-finish, lay flat pouches with a tear notch for easy opening. The pouches come in three different sizes to fit a varying number of masks in each.

“It was cool to see them [ePac] really respond to the importance of face masks in the current pandemic…They supported our mission, and there has been a very human element to all of it,” says Barry. 

Looking to the Future 

In May, after six weeks of running at full capacity, BELLA+CANVAS has caught up on orders and has started to slowly make t-shirts again, in addition to working on expanding their mask choices. In the future, they will offer different face mask colors, as well as a higher value sewn mask available in different sizes to give customers a more custom fit. They are currently testing a variety of packaging sizes for more retail opportunities, from a single-use package to a bulk size for club stores. ePac will be the supplier of these masks once they are ready for retail sale. 

ePac’s digital printing platform serves as a one-stop-shop, capable of accommodating last-minute changes, quick turnaround time, and simultaneously running multiple SKUs. The partnership between ePac and BELLA+CANVAS is what enabled the apparel brand’s face masks to quickly get in the hands of consumers during a time of need. 

If you are looking for a company that can support you every step of your packaging journey and work within your deadlines, give us a call or request a quote today.

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