By Tiffany Montgomery | Published February 26, 2021
Phunkshun Wear has had a down and then up ride during the pandemic.
After experiencing the struggles that so many went through in March, the company quickly pivoted to making PPE and working on other projects to help the community.
Business took off as demand for masks and neck gaiters soared, and Phunkshun received a big boost when Colorado Governor Jared Polis wore a Phunkshun mask at a press conference.
CEO Jay Badgley, who runs the company with President and Founder Lanny Goldwasser, shared with us how the company adjusted during the pandemic and how helping the community ended up being good for business as well.
All Phunkshun’s products are manufactured in Colorado and made with Repreve, the fabric created from recycled plastic bottles.
When the pandemic first hit, how was your business impacted?
Phunkshun Wear CEO Jay Badgley: I think back to ISPO 2020 and OR Winter 2020 and remember how much speculation there was at the trade shows, specifically surrounding the news emerging about the virus. It was still something that hadn’t directly impacted much of the American snow/outdoor market yet.
Fast forward to the spring, when ski areas were shuttered early to curb the spread, and Denver and Colorado restrictions went into place. Ski areas shutting down in March stopped virtually all retail sales of winter sports products. This had a cascading effect, not only eliminating any late season re-orders, but also significantly impacting pre-orders for the following season.
In addition, non-essential manufacturers weren’t allowed to be open. We closed for a number of weeks, with just me and a few others permitted to enter our factory to work on a projects associated with the Colorado PPE Manufacturing Task Force. We were developing alternatives to surgical and N95 masks, which were in short supply and needed by our healthcare workers.
Thankfully, we were able to develop a product that met the guidelines for cloth face coverings and we were honored when Colorado Governor Jared Polis chose to wear one during a press briefing advocating the wearing of masks.
What kind of adjustments did you make to respond?
Jay Badgley: From a product mix perspective, we shifted quickly to non-medical PPE cloth face coverings. We decided to donate a mask for each mask we sold on our website during the height of the pandemic. It was the right thing to do. It kept our staff employed, our bills paid, and it gave back to the community.
Operationally, we had to completely rearrange most of our manufacturing floor to accommodate guidelines. That included installing sneeze guards on sewing machines, staggering lunch breaks, and spacing out workstations and manufacturing areas. This was only possible because our neighbor in the complex deciding to move out, and we took over that space. That allowed us to space out our operation and bring in some advanced manufacturing machinery that we previously didn’t have room for.
Production wise, demand was higher we had expected at first. But we knew so many businesses were hurting. So we contracted work to bridal shops, window covering shops and others. As these other industries started coming back, they were able to return to their primary function.
How has some of your outreach to the community impacted Phunkshun?
Jay Badgley: We fundamentally believe that doing good is good for business. Recently we partnered on a project with the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, The North Face, Colorado Creative Industries and the Mile High Workshop to provide approximately 4,000 cloth face coverings for the Colorado Department of Education. The masks are free and will be distributed to teachers and students across the state.
What kind of growth have you seen in DTC and wholesale during the pandemic?
Jay Badgley: Thankfully, due largely in part to the pivot we made after our pre-order sales were below forecast, we managed to end 2020 on a positive note. We ultimately saw growth in both channels.
Retailers came back with a vengeance and face masks seemed to be a top item at most shops. With the growing DTC channel, we knew it was important to implement a way to direct traffic to our retailers, so we started using the Locally dealer locator on our site. I’m a firm believer in the snow shop experience. It’s part of the culture of our sports.
This season, we are seeing retailers place more frequent reorders in smaller quantities to better meet demand and manage stock levels. The number one request we get is for multi-ply models, like our ‘Double Tube,’ which I’m sure is because of the CDC’s current guidelines surrounding neck gaiters.
How are you thinking 2021 will turn out for the company?
Jay Badgley: As a planet we’re not out of the woods yet, but I’m cautiously optimistic. We’re ready to expand into new markets and have been able to leverage our new machines to develop products that we’ve had on the drawing board for a long time.
We’re releasing new models of face coverings, including an adult model with a more ergonomic fit as well as youth sizes of our classic fit. We’re also launching our new ActiPH Face Coverings, with a performance fabric for the shell that’s intended for athletes and individuals that require more from their face coverings.
Outside of non-medical PPE face coverings, we’re focused on creating a more versatile model of our single tube that is ideal for all seasons and more durable for hikers and adventurers than current options out there.
You’re also going to start seeing some apparel items from Phunkshun Wear in the future.
SIA is the trade association of the winter outdoor industry. Through SIA membership, brands, destinations, retailers, service providers and nonprofits solve immediate business problems, adapt to changing pressures, save and grow. #TheBusinessofWinter.