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Blue Delta Jean Company employee Fernando Reis begins making stacks of 10 protective masks before others can pack boxes of 400 masks as the company has shifted production from high-end blue jeans to 50,000 masks a week at its facility in the Tupelo Lee Industrial Park South. Thomas Wells | Buy at PHOTOS.DJOURNAL.COM

Blue Delta shifting from jeans production to masks

By DENNIS SEID / Daily Journal

TUPELO • Blue Delta Jean Co. is shifting its focus from making $500 jeans to making much-needed protective masks.

“We’re going to be working 12-hour days, six days a week,” said CEO Josh West. “We’re looking at 400 to 500 masks per person per day, so that’s 30,000-50,000 masks per week.”

The company is shifting almost all of its resources to making the masks, which are being tested at Mississippi State University. Production should start Tuesday, and the first 50,000 are under contract by the City of Memphis.

As more contracts come in, “We hope to keep as many of these in Mississippi as we can,” West said. “We’re working with MEMA and trying to make sure we can keep as many as we can here.”

Blue Delta has been making a name for itself in the fashion world with its custom jeans. Sports figures and entertainers have donned them, and the company was named the official jean of the U.S. Ryder Cup Team.

It was at TPC at Sawgrass two weeks ago when the company felt the impact of the coronavirus.

“We heard about it on that Wednesday, and they sent us home on Thursday,” West said. “Over about five days we had a month and a half of events cancel on us. We have wholesale and event sales, and we lost a good bit of that part of the business.”

West knew Blue Delta was about to enter interesting times. Without many orders generated for jeans, what would happen to his employees and the company? While there were still orders for jeans to be filled, they wouldn’t last for too long.

“We started thinking about what we could do for our people and with our equipment,” West said. “One of our partners has family in the medical field, and he got a call asking if we could make masks.”

From there, the Blue Delta team made some prototypes and then reached out via social media for help in getting material and advice in making the masks.

The masks are made of a spun-bond non-woven material.

“We got an overwhelming response,” West said. “From there it just kept rolling. Now we’re doing our time trials and building out the factory to build them in a safe way. Early next week we’ll be sewing for that first contract.”

Ten sewers will work on the masks right away, but another half dozen or so can be shifted over if needed.

“Our model is, if demand continues to grow – and I hope it doesn’t; I hope we’re making jeans in three weeks – we’ve already reached out to manufacturers who do what we do, whether it’s furniture or cut-and-sew, and we’re going so share our model to have them help us do what we’re doing and at the same time keep their people busy,” West said.

Making protective masks and possibly other equipment is not what Blue Delta wants to do long-term, West said. But for now, it will do what it can to help meet a critical shortage.

“We can’t make an N95 mask, but we’re going to make the best mask we can with the resources we do have,” he said.

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