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Vet-owned Nine Line Apparel is making millions of masks and has a new idea for the N95 mask shortage

Nine Line Apparel in Savannah, Ga. (Nine Line Apparel/Facebook)
April 03, 2020

Veteran-owned apparel company Nine Line Apparel has shifted its operation and has begun manufacturing medical masks for healthcare workers to support to shortage amid the nationwide coronavirus fight.

Army veteran Tyler Merritt, CEO of Nine Line Apparel, decided to address the mask shortage amid new estimates that the U.S. will need up to three billion masks in the next few months.

In a new video posted Thursday, Merritt said his company and his manufacturing partners have already created tens of millions of containment masks to distribute to Americans in need.

However, Merritt said the real supply need is for N95 masks for healthcare workers. The masks rely on an airtight seal and filter out pathogens. To make supply more challenging, there are only two machines in the U.S. capable of manufacturing the unique “melt-blown” fabric necessary for N95 masks.

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Merritt noted that Nine Line has worked alongside scientists and engineers who volunteered to help the company’s project, and together, they’ve come up with a 3-D printed model that is an alternative to the N95 mask and can be quickly scaled via injection molds. Now the problem lies in securing federal approval, and the funding for the equipment.

“We have the knowledge. We have the know-how. We have the smartest U.S. manufacturers. We have the smartest scientists. We have the smartest engineers. We have a scalable solution, but we do not have the money to conduct the expedited FDA [research and development],” Merritt said.

Without federal funding, Merritt has begun a GoFundMe fundraiser to raise the money necessary to purchase injection molds that will allow the company to quickly scale production of the filtration masks up to 3,000 per day.

“We do not want these multi-billion dollar DoD contractors to drag their heels and make billions of dollars while people die,” Merritt told Fox Business’ Neil Cavuto last week. “Right now, there’s a contract for 500 million masks to be produced in the next 18 months. We don’t have 18 months. We have days.”

Merritt’s decision to manufacture masks was influenced by his mother, who actively works as a nurse, and his father, who is considered high-risk for contracting the virus.

He slammed the “despicable” companies reaping billions in profit, along with price gouging sellers, who are capitalizing on the soaring demand of masks. He aims to counter this with his own rapid production and lower prices.

“We’re going to make it faster, better, cheaper than what’s out there,” he said. “And I’m going to drive the prices down. This mask… we’re selling at our cost and we’re pushing out hundreds of thousands.”

The efforts, however, could risk bankruptcy in doing so. Nine Line Apparel and Merritt himself are funding the efforts alone.

Merritt has established a new website for the public to learn more about Nine Line’s mask initiative.