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How one Hawaii man’s frustrating search for protective face masks turned into a calling

When the COVID pandemic first hit, airline pilot Nick Garcia ― like a lot of people ― had a hard time finding protective face masks. So he made his own.
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 4:33 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2022 at 6:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When the COVID pandemic first hit, airline pilot Nick Garcia ― like a lot of people ― had a hard time finding protective face masks. So he made his own.

“I started off making them out of coffee filters,” he said.

His creativity went to another level. In October 2020, Garcia opened the Kona Mask Company, the only factory in Hawaii that mass produces protective antiviral face coverings.

Pleated masks and N95-style masks are churned out by machines.

“We can make up to 18,000 masks per hour,” he said.

To fund his startup, Garcia sold his home and sank most of his retirement savings into the business. He turned an old auto body shop into a mask-making factory and bought machinery and materials.

He was driven by his motto, “Let’s save lives!”

“I felt almost a spiritual calling to help. Everyone did something,” he said.

His masks are made out of medical grade material and sold online and to corporate customers.

“Our biggest customers are the Hilton hotels. They purchased about 40,000 of our type of masks,” he said. ”We have a mask that’s unique to the U.S. It’s a FLUTECT mask.”

That’s a mask with extra layers of antiviral protection. Garcia has sent his masks to the nation’s COVID expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, along with the CDC and the FDA.

“In our pre-tests, our masks have come up in the 99 percentile. They’re just fantastic. They’re beautifully made. And they’re made by people that live in Hawaii. We’re very proud of that,” he said.

Now that President Biden has called for mass distribution of N95 masks, Garcia plans to send a letter to Washington, saying his factory can help produce them.

“We’re contacting the White House to see how we can get into that stream,” he said.

Garcia’s Christian faith motivated him to help people who can’t afford protective masks. Twenty percent of the masks his factory makes are donated to churches and charities.

“We have many more years, we believe, that masks are going to be needed. I don’t think we’re done with the variants yet,” he said.

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