A Kenosha-Based Underwear Marketer Is Producing Protective Gear for Healthcare Workers

This isn’t the first time Jockey has stepped up to help the community during a time of crisis.

Underwear marketer and retailer Jockey International Inc. has launched an aggressive effort to produce and donate personal protective equipment to health care workers and first responders across the country who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the communities that will benefit from the effort are New York City, which is the epicenter of the COVID-19 battle in the United States, and Kenosha, where Jockey has its corporate headquarters.

Jockey Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer Debra Waller, speaking at the White House on Monday, said it is “part of the company’s DNA to roll up our sleeves and help our country in her time of need.”

“During World War II, we made parachutes for the military and today we are eager to serve this great country by providing support for the health care workers on the frontline of this fight,” Waller said during a COVID-19 Task Force briefing.

Waller noted that Jockey has a long-standing partnership with Encompass Group, a McDonough, Georgia-based retail health care apparel manufacturer that produces the Jockey brand of medical scrubs.

“Monumental lifting” by Jockey, Encompass, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was carried out in just a few days in order to become production-ready, she said.

In partnership with Encompass, Jockey is expecting to initially donate 250,000 disposable isolation gowns at a pace of 30,000 to 50,000 units per week. As production begins, Jockey will assess the ability to significantly increase output of the gowns, which provide full-length protection for medical professionals working in infectious conditions.

Encompass had ceased gown production two years ago, which required the company to restart those operations in short order, Jockey President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Fedyk said in an interview.

“These are very inexpensive products and the economics were such that Encompass had gotten out of the business,” Fedyk said.
Jockey is coordinating closely with FEMA and the FDA to ensure that high-priority medical facilities and testing sites across the country will receive the initial gown deliveries.

In addition, this week Jockey is also donating 10,000 sets of scrubs to doctors and nurses at the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center in New York City, which has been transformed into a temporary hospital to handle patient overflow caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

On a local level, Jockey will supply the Kenosha Fire Department with 10,000 N95 masks, which prevent at least 95 percent of airborne particles from entering a wearer’s mouth and nose, if worn properly, along with 10,000 Level 1, or low barrier, surgical masks.

The masks were donated by some of Jockey’s global manufacturing partners in Hong Kong, India and Bangladesh, Fedyk said.

“A number of our partners are also fighting this virus in their countries and they passed those along to us,” he said.

On Monday, a delivery of 2,000 Level 1 masks was made to the Kenosha Fire Department. The remaining Level 1 masks and the allotment of N95 masks are en route and will be delivered as soon as possible, according to the company.

“We have been fortunate to be a part of the Kenosha community for more than 120 years and it was absolutely critical to support those first responders in our hometown who take care of us, day in and day out,” Waller said in a statement. “Kenosha is our home, it is our family, and we will always do whatever we can to support the community that means so much to us.”

Waller said the ability to quickly produce and deliver the desperately needed medical equipment is a “true representation of the public and private sectors coming together to benefit our country.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a “significant” impact on Jockey’s overall business, Fedyk said. Worldwide production of Jockey’s products has essentially stopped at this point, he added.

“We have weathered other crises, and this is certainly a significant one. But we will weather this one and come out strong on the other side of it,” he said.



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.