Manufacturing PPE During a Critical Time

Q&A with James McKinnon ’87, CEO of Cotswold Industries

As CEO of Cotswold Industries, James McKinnon ’87 is carrying on the legacy of the third-generation family-owned and operated American textile manufacturer. His grandfather founded the company in 1954, and his dad, Wink ’60, followed suit and continues to work for the business. Cotswold is a leader in the development and distribution of technical textiles and apparel fabrics and has supplied a wide variety of products for sectors such as the military, medical device manufacturers, and hospitals, including PPE.

Your family’s textile business has been producing personal protective equipment for health-care workers and patients for decades. With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the U.S. in the spring, did you have to make major changes to shift the firm’s focus and increase production on PPE and your Saxon Shield line? How difficult was that?

As a current supplier to various U.S. government entities, Cotswold moved quickly to reposition our USA manufacturing assets to produce PPE materials in large quantities. We were fortunate in that our commercial workwear products were well suited for dual-use PPE production so that we were able to pivot quickly to address the unprecedented demand. Our durable water-repellent and antimicrobial chemistry is applied to all our products so that we produce reusable products that are high performance as well as being sustainable.

Were your textile manufacturing facilities able to stay open as “essential businesses”?

Yes. Cotswold has five factory locations in South Carolina and Georgia, and we were deemed essential as soon as the country began sheltering in place.

What advantages does Cotswold have that sets it apart in the world of PPE manufacturing and materials?

Our focus as a company revolves around producing value-driven fabrics that are also as sustainable as possible. Our innovation team took up the challenge to use the demand opportunity to develop an isolation gown PPE product called “Eco-Shield” that is made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles. We felt that if given the chance to show what we could manufacture in this country, that FEMA, DOD, and various private health-care companies would see the great value in an American-made, innovative, and purpose-driven partnership.

How has the textile industry in the U.S. been doing in 2020 with so many disruptions to retail consumption and manufacturing during this crisis?

Like many businesses, 2020 has been very tough on USA textiles companies that were heavily focused on apparel and/or home furnishings. However, as an industry, we have banded together to use as much production capacity as possible to drive protection PPE fabrics to our health-care heroes. Our industry has had many success stories around recreating broken supply chains, and we feel that those will continue to pay dividends in new and effective ways of meetings the challenges of our “new normal.”

Have you been working remotely or in Cotswold’s home office in New York City?

Regarding our NYC head office, we were quite fortunate to have had our IT infrastructure put 100 percent into a cloud-based solution several years ago. We were able to seamlessly switch to working from home without any issues. Our managers and associates that are required to be on site received rigorous training and were issued protective equipment so that they feel and stay as safe as possible.