When I was a kid, I thought every single pair of underwear I wore was sewn together by my dad.
He worked at Fruit of the Loom, so I thought it was his job to sew whatever princess-patterned pair I was wearing.
I’m not sure when I realized that my dad worked in the corporate office, not in a manufacturing plant— a pencil-pusher, as my great-grandfather always called him.
Recently, Fruit of the Loom expanded its product line: The company announced on March 23 that it would be producing protective masks for healthcare workers “on the frontline as they care for us all during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Many other companies have altered production to aid in the fight against coronavirus. Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co., for example, is making hand sanitizer as well as bourbon.
The details at Fruit of the Loom are still being worked out, said Whitney Scott, director of corporate communications. The partnership began when the United States Department of Health and Human Services recruited Fruit of the Loom to manufacture masks.
“The project is currently in the preliminary planning stage,” Scott wrote in an email. “We are working with our necessary partners and agencies to start production as soon as possible, but we do not have an exact date at this time.”
Company leaders are still exploring where the masks will be produced, Scott said. Fruit of the Loom owns production plants in Vietnam, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico.
Once masks are manufactured, the government will purchase them “at a nominal cost.” The Department of Health and Human Services will then handle the distribution.
“During this unprecedented time, it is more important than ever that we all find ways to support one another,” Scott said, echoing the company’s public press release. “We want to do everything possible to help the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services combat this pandemic.”
Fruit of the Loom’s world headquarters is just a few miles down I-65 from the only place in the world where Corvettes are manufactured— the cars might be flashier than the underwear, but I know which one has been more important to my family.
My dad started working there in 1996— on August 5, he just told me— more than two years before I was born.
When I was in third grade, I had a class assignment to visit significant places in Bowling Green and present what I learned in some form. I made a scrapbook, but I can’t find it in the closet full of scrapbooking supplies or in the crate marked “Memories” in my little-kid handwriting under my bed. I found a scrapbook my sister and I made for my dad for Father’s Day in 2002, and a dried Play-Doh masterpiece, and all the junk mail that colleges sent me during my senior year of high school. But I couldn’t find the Bowling Green scrapbook.
It was 2006, right after my youngest sibling was born, so a cast of family members other than my parents took me to several of the locations on my list. My aunts Donna and Susie took me to the Corvette Museum. Meamaw took me to Hobson House, a historic home from the Civil War era.
And my dad was waiting for me at Fruit of the Loom.
I remember annual Easter egg hunts on the lawn outside, and going inside to the cafeteria to visit the Easter bunny. I remember that there used to be a chocolate milk dispenser in there, which I was fascinated by, and one year there was a frightening bunny, which I was terrified of.
But this trip was all business. I carried one of the spiral legal pads that my mom used for her legal work— a foreshadowing of my reporters notebook days to come.
I interviewed a few of my dad’s coworkers; I wish I could find the scrapbook to read my final report.
And of course I paused for a picture in front of the big plush fruit, a real-life manifestation of Fruit of the Loom’s iconic logo.
Fruit of the Loom had allowed people to work from home for several weeks before, but last Friday, March 27, was the first day that all corporate employees had to work from home. That meant all six of us— a Fruit of the Loom vice president of planning and forecasting, a lawyer, a college senior, a college freshman, a 9th grader, and a 7th grader— were sharing laptops and workspace in our house.
My dad took up residence in what’s normally my mom’s office; my mom, 19-year-old sister and I have mostly spread out at the dining room table.
Every once in a while, my dad wanders to the kitchen to grab a Diet Mountain Dew or a handful of peanut M&Ms. Sometimes we hear him call out things, and I think it’s more to break the silence than for anyone to hear what he’s actually saying.
“I’ll tell you what people are not buying,” my dad said through the open office door a few days ago.
After seeing social media posts and memes about quarantine loungewear, I could’ve guessed what he said next.