Bioscarf production moves to West Michigan

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The Bioscarf and other similar products from G95 make use of the N95 filtration technology designed to block very small contaminant particles. Courtesy G95

The spread of COVID-19 in China recently prompted the maker of an antibacterial scarf designed to protect wearers from airborne contaminants to move production to West Michigan.

Atlanta-based G95 Inc. is the maker of the Bioscarf, a neck- and face-covering apparel item with built-in filtration technology designed to help protect users from bacteria, viruses, pollution, allergens, smoke and other airborne contaminants.

Carlton Solle — who is co-founder along with his wife, Hazel Solle — said production of G95’s flagship item and other related gear has been moved from a contract manufacturer in Ningbo, China, to Ladder 34, at 4980 Kendrick St. SE in Cascade Township.

Ladder 34, founded and owned by Cascade Township firefighter Lance Korhorn, upcycles decommissioned fire hoses into belts, floor mats and other products.

Solle — who has owned several businesses that have an environmental focus and tries to support circular economy companies — stumbled across Ladder 34 a while ago and connected with Korhorn after buying a Ladder 34 belt online that he needed help assembling.

The two got talking about their respective products, and Korhorn made Solle an offer he (eventually) couldn’t refuse.

“He offered, a little over a year ago, if we ever needed something cut and sewn and help with stuff like that, I should reach out to him, and he could help,” Solle said. “When everything went crazy (in China), I was like, ‘Oh, I have somebody, let me reach out.’ So that’s how the connection was born.”

The Solles created the Bioscarf in 2017 after Carlton Solle became sick from air pollution on a business trip to China. While consulting a doctor during his trip, the doctor told him the only thing to be done to protect himself in the future was to wear an N95 filtration mask. The masks, though functional, have a chilling effect on people who seeing you wearing them, because they assume you are sick.

Hazel Solle decided they could do better by creating a functional but also aesthetically pleasing product, and thus, the Bioscarf was born.

Since then, the pair have created other items that also use filtration technology, such as the Biogoggles, Biohoodie and Biogaiter, and they registered G95 as the parent company in December 2019.

The name is a mashup of “G” for “gear” and “95” for the N95 filtration mask, which is designed to block 95% of very small contaminant particles.

The G95 products are available at g95.com.

Carlton Solle said it took almost a year to plan all of the products and get them ready for production in the factory they contracted with in China — from designs to branding, materials, badges and labels — and after placing an order for about 45,000 units, they had planned to begin production in Ningbo right after the Chinese New Year.

The spread of the COVID-19 virus during that time — which caused China to shut down production at factories — also impacted the labor pool and wreaked havoc on the global supply chain, forcing G95 to turn to its backup plan: Ladder 34.

All of their original materials inventory is still sitting in China, so during the past several weeks, the Solles have scrambled to find new suppliers in the U.S. in order to fill the steadily climbing backlog of orders, which was at about 1,400 units as of March 12.

The materials used in G95’s products are about four to five times costlier in the U.S. than they were from the international suppliers the Solles were using before, which forced them to raise prices by about $10 per item and also to find new investors for the company.

Production started at Ladder 34 on March 6 and since has been ramping up as material deliveries make their way to West Michigan.

Carlton Solle said while the change in the location of production has been a challenge, awareness and education about the product also is at an all-time high, and demand for the Bioscarf has spiked during the COVID-19 crisis because it is designed to protect against airborne health hazards.

In January, G95 did $10,000 in sales, in February, $98,000, and, as of March 12, the company was already at $85,000 in revenue.

Compared to the first quarter of 2019, when they sold about 400 units of the Bioscarf, so far in the first quarter of 2020, they are projecting they will sell more than 8,000 units.

He said an unexpected benefit of having to shift production from China is that he now feels like he can exert more control over all “the pieces of the puzzle” that go into making and selling his products.

“We’ve had to peel back every step and every piece of our products and look at every component of them,” he said. “I think now that everything is in motion, now I can go back and begin to try to figure out more economical ways or better suppliers or other things that might help (cut costs and prices) as we keep on moving.”

Carlton Solle said he has found it helpful — despite the higher production costs in the U.S. — to be able to drive in one day to his production site, talk with the makers without language barriers, handle the materials and come up with new ideas for improving things collaboratively.

“I think in the end, the peace of mind might make it all worth it,” he said.

He added the response from the Grand Rapids community was “incredible” when the company announced it was moving into the area, with emails pouring in and people offering to come bring food, help with the work, and offer other services and support.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” he said. “It’s a great testament to the city.”

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