A Glut of Chinese Masks Is Driving U.S. Companies Out of Business

Updated: Jun 2

By The New York Times

This article was published in The New York Times May 29, 2021. We're sharing because it highlights the ongoing challenge of offshore competition, specifically related to the production of personal protective equipment. The article features SPESA member Charlie Merrow, the role Merrow Manufacturing played in the development of medical gowns at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the challenges the company is facing now with competition from China. (SPESA member Merrow Sewing Machine Company is part of the larger Merrow Group, along with Merrow Manufacturing.)

Remember when N95s were in short supply? American companies stepped in to manufacture them. Now, they can’t compete.

Mask mandates have eased, a welcome milestone in the battle against Covid-19. But for the two dozen domestic companies that jumped into the mask-making business last year, the good news comes with a downside: a calamitous drop in sales.

Some of the slackening demand is tied to the loosening of masking guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but industry experts say a bigger factor has been the return of inexpensive protective gear from China that began flooding the American market earlier this year.

Industry executives and some members of Congress have accused China of dumping, noting that many imports are priced so low — sometimes a tenth of what American factories charge for comparable products — that there is little chance for domestic companies to survive.

In recent weeks, at least three companies have stopped producing masks and medical gowns, and several others have markedly scaled back production, among them Premium-PPE, a year-old surgical mask-maker in Virginia that recently laid off most of its 280 workers.