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Kona’s Mask-Making Company Faces Setbacks Due to Damaged Shipment

By Tiffany DeMasters
March 24, 2021, 10:39 AM HST
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The state’s only mask-making company could be set back a few months after its recent shipment to the Big Island appeared to arrive damaged.

Kona Mask Co. was founded by retired United Airlines pilot Nick Garcia and is based in Kailua-Kona. They opened operations in October 2020 in an effort to make personal protective equipment (PPE) more accessible amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the virus struck last March, Garcia said, he was having a hard time finding a mask. With prior factory experience, he decided to sell his home and use his retirement to open a mask-producing factory.

The factory currently produces flat pleated masks and N95 masks. Garcia said he provides close to 100,000 masks to all states, including Hawai‘i. About a quarter of the supply is given to charity and poor communities who can’t afford a mask.

“We needed our own mask-making production here in Hawaii in case of emergency,” Garcia explained. “Hawai‘i is the furthest point from anywhere in the world — because of that, we’re really almost like a foreign country, we’re very isolated and we need to have our own PPE factories here.”

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Their operation could be set back two to three months after a shipment they received from China was damaged in transport from Honolulu to the Big Island due to high seas. On March 15, Garcia received new inventory that included a new high-speed low-cost machine that made a mask with wider ear bands and a three-month supply of mask materials at a price tag of $200,000 that came directly out of his pocket.

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When they opened the container, Garcia said, the contents were damaged. Boxes were upside down, wet, and covered in dust. The CEO was initially hesitant to offload the materials, hoping he could just send the shipment back as is. However, the shipping company, Sankyu, requires the recipient to do an inventory of the contents and report damage back.

“We could tell from initial inspection that we didn’t want to touch this shipment,” Garcia explained. “It was too damaged for us to consider taking off the truck.”

Garcia thought Sankyu would just send an adjuster to look at the contents of the shipment.

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“I didn’t want to be blamed for further damage,” Garcia explained.

Dave Hagerty, a manufacturing process consultant, was contracted by Garcia to help him obtain the materials and equipment needed for the Kona factory. Hagerty said Garcia called him right away after receiving the shipment.

Hagerty told Garcia to do an inventory of the shipment and document the damage via pictures. This process is common practice, Hagerty explained.

“In all of my time, I’ve never seen an insurance company flat out deny a claim,” Hagerty said.

Knowing the boxes had been wet, Garcia said, he felt it would be hard to prove to the insurance company if someone didn’t see the condition of the shipment in person. Despite his concerns, Kona Mask Co. staff began offloading the shipment on March 20 and cataloging the damage.

Creased edges on the material make it difficult for a high-speed machine to compensate for as it causes machine stoppages due to materials walking out of the feed parameters. (PC: Nick Garcia)

Garcia told Big Island Now on Tuesday, March 23, the staff was going through 80 boxes. While the cataloging is ongoing, Garcia said, he could tell the mask materials were damaged as they were bowed out from being wet.

“These rolls are supposed to be perfectly straight and flat, and they’re cupped,” Garcia said.

Garcia tested out the new machine and it appears to be operating smoothly.

Garcia plans to bid on contracts with the local hospitals. His masks are currently sold at Island Naturals and he’s working on getting the masks in other local grocery stores.

Garcia also is producing anti-viral masks with material made in Japan. Flu-Tect, created by Shikibo, protects against several viruses, including other coronavirus strains, Hagerty said. Unfortunately, the Japanese company’s product hasn’t been certified by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

Garcia said he is petitioning the parent company to go through that process with the FDA. In the meantime, he is making samples available for sale.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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