From Backpacks to Face Masks

The team at Hyperlite Mountain Gear adapts to help others during a global crisis

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread through Maine, Mike St. Pierre, founder and CEO of Biddeford-based Hyperlite Mountain Gear, was faced with a series of difficult decisions. Like hundreds of small business owners across the state, St. Pierre had to shut down his operation and lay off 35 employees—about half of his production staff—to keep his business afloat. Sales for Hyperlite’s lightweight outdoor gear were falling, so St. Pierre began to do some research. “I started by reaching out to the hospitals and learning as much as I could from anybody that was willing to talk to me,” he says. Knowing that a facility with professional cutting and sewing capabilities could be useful in the present moment, St. Pierre adapted his business. In just eight days, the Hyperlite team created a mask design, sourced the necessary materials, and prepared the manufacturing line to begin face mask production.

Hyperlite’s masks are made with a material called interlock micro-polyester, which is used to make Major League Baseball uniforms, and they are finished with a durable water repellent that keeps out droplets. The knit process for the fabric is unusual; it creates a thread formation that is much harder for things to get through, St. Pierre says.

Hyperlite’s pivot resembled that of other Maine companies, including Sea Bags, which started producing face shields and masks, and L.L.Bean, which has used its shipping hub to sort and package food for Good Shepherd Food Bank.

Since transitioning to mask making, Hyperlite has been able to hire back 20 employees. The company is making close to 5,000 masks per day and selling them to different organizations, hospitals across the country, and the general public. While it’s unclear how long people will need masks, for now, St. Pierre says, “We’re going to keep doing the best we can.”

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