Retirement plans for an airline pilot changed from relaxing and playing golf to manufacturing masks in Kona to help fight the pandemic.
Nicolas Garcia was a United Airlines pilot for 46 years when he retired on April 1. When his flight attendant fiancee, Amy, could not find any masks at the beginning of the pandemic, he found his calling and the idea of Kona Mask Co. was born.
“At first I was making masks out of coffee filters for Amy,” he recalled.
That’s when he searched YouTube for videos on making your own masks and stumbled upon a video that showed mask-making machines manufactured in China.
“I saw the need to jump into this war and supply the bullets against what I consider the enemy, the virus. The easiest way to do that was to make masks,” he recalled.
Garcia previously owned a soap factory in San Diego, manufacturing single-use soaps.
“I look at my own experience. I had the technical knowledge on how to run a factory. Then I looked at some videos on mask-making in China and said I can run those machines, I just need to get them here to the island,” he said.
Having just sold his home, he had the money, means, talent and the time to fight this battle.
“When I retired on April 1 and decided to go ahead with this there were only 5,000 deaths in America. Now, we have over 200,000,” he said. “I saw this chart that showed the urgency of PPE (personal protective equipment) and the huge shortage. It said we only had 1% of the PPE required if the pandemic went full blown. So I said, ‘oh my gosh, we could make 100 times more factories than we currently have in the U.S. and we would just meet the demand not exceed it.’ That’s when I decided to jump in. I didn’t get to go to any war to fight for America, so this is my contribution to the effort for mankind.”
He invested about $750,000 in the venture, purchasing the machines and refurbishing the 4,000-square-foot space in the Kona Trade Center.
“You have to have a lot of faith and keep plugging along and one day you will get there. That’s where we are now. We are ready to start,” he said. “Our mission is to protect the ohana and save lives.”
The first automated mask factory in the state is expected to start production this week with a staff of 10. Garcia will be manufacturing N95 and flat masks, plus “super” versions of both types of mask.
“One of the materials used in our super mask is an antiviral textile called FLUTECT made by Shikibo Ltd. in Japan. This makes our masks different,” he said. “The treated fabric traps and kills viruses. We will be the first in the US to add it to our masks. It will turn our masks into a super mask. Masks are evolving to do different things. We are putting this extra layer into our super masks.”
Garcia claims they can make one million masks every 20 days running an eight-hour shift. If demand is high, he is ready to employ two shifts and cut the time to 10 days.
“Hawaii is not that big for our production rate. We can supply every man, woman and child in just a few weeks,” he said. “We will start here and expand to anyplace in the world where there are hotspots. Hawaii first, then globally.”
“I decided to be part of the solution,” he said.