Mike Werner remembers early in the pandemic when his best friend, who worked at a local tire store, met with him after work.
“It was a hot summer day, and he was complaining about wearing a paper mask,” Werner said. “I felt so bad for him wearing those paper masks.”
Werner, a local business owner in the trucking and real estate industry, was struck with an idea to create a shirt with a built-in mask, something he hadn’t seen available to the public. He gathered two friends, Trey Washington and Caleb McGuire, and the trio began developing an idea for a shirt with a built-in mask.
“I wanted to put together a quality shirt that lasts and looks good,” Werner said. “People don’t want to wear ugly masks on their face.”
Their company, NewBreath Clothing, based in Vancouver, began selling its products online on March 20 at newbreathclothing.com and on Amazon.com.
After the group met at Werner’s house for the initial discussion, they went to a fabric store and bought materials. McGuire’s brother sewed the pieces together and within a week, they had their first prototype.
“Once we saw it visually and wore it, we were like ‘OK, we can do this,'” Washington said.
The company initially hired a Los Angeles company to manufacture the product, but “they moved like a snail and it wasn’t what we were looking for,” Washington said. The team then built its own group of workers to make and promote the product. They hired Courtney Dickins as creative director.
They created a product line with short-sleeve, long-sleeve, hoodies and neon construction-type shirts with reflective material. The shirts have washable charcoal filters that fit into a “pocket” in the mask area, and loopholes to go over the ears. They also provide +40 UV protection. NewBreath sells women’s, men’s and youth sizes ranging in price from $52 to $129. Sizes range from small to XXL.
“We wanted to touch everybody,” McGuire said. “We wanted to make sure we covered all groups.”
To market the shirts, the trio began seeking “influencers” on social media platforms, including Instagram. The influencers wear the shirts at events and post their pictures on social media. To find the influencers, NewBreath hired a public relations firm and also used Washington’s connections. One of the influencers that NewBreath hired, Mr. Hotspot, has more than 1.5 million followers on Instagram.
“We want to make sure we’re everywhere,” McGuire said.
NewBreath ordered 2,500 shirts for the first production run, and it’s already working on a second round, which includes a hunting and fishing line and a shirt dedicated to members of the U.S. military.
Although sales are just online, the company plans to do occasional pop-up shops and could open a brick-and-mortar store if there’s a demand.
“It isn’t out of the question,” Werner said.