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Santa Rosa apparel maker Buff gets rush of orders for headwear people are using as face covering

Surely you’ve seen them on “Survivor,” the reality TV show whose contestants wore these simple,versatile garments to identify their tribes.

They are products made by Buff, tubular bandanas made of stretchy fabric, which can be worn as headbands, neckerchiefs, balaclavas and tube tops, to name just a few of their uses.

Buff is short for bufanda, the Spanish word for scarf. Headquartered in Spain, with its Buff USA subsidiary in Santa Rosa, the company was founded in 1998 by Joan Rojas, a native Spaniard and motorcyclist who sought to protect his head and neck from the elements on cross-country rides.

Popular with runners, anglers, cyclists, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts around the globe, Buff’s “multifunctional headware” products have long been associated with “adventure and athletic pursuits,” said Kevin Walker, marketing manager of the Santa Rosa office, which employs 20 people. Lately, those “multifunctional” items have a new function.

The beginning of April brought a “significant increase” in demand for Buff products. That rush coincided with a directive issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. Responding to data showing many people carrying the coronavirus were “asymptomatic,” the CDC recommended that people wear cloth or fabric face coverings in public. Shortly after announcing the new federal guidelines, President Donald Trump memorably added he had no intention of wearing a face covering, himself. (Sonoma County health officials made it mandatory as of Friday to wear face coverings inside buildings, other than home, or outside when people can’t keep adequate social distance from ?each other.)

Perhaps Trump might feel differently if he’d seen Buff’s stylish array of options, including items named for National Parks, with colors ranging from Anira purple to Hatay blue and Ionosphere. Or he might prefer the Buff product named for his recently adopted state of Florida.

While the best way to prevent transmission of the virus is to practice physical distancing of at least 6 feet, the CDC said face coverings can slow the spread of the virus. They can be especially helpful preventing transmission from people who have the virus but don’t realize it.

While all face masks help decrease exposure to the coronavirus, good old-fashioned cotton fabric is more effective in this role than a synthetic material like polyester, according to a recent article on Outside.com. Most Buff products are made from a breathable, moisture-wicking polyester microfiber blend.

Buff officials said in a statement on the company’s website that, while its head and neckware protects against nature’s elements, “they are not scientifically proven” by the CDC to prevent wearers from contracting the virus, or passing it on.

That hasn’t stopped a rush of phone calls and online orders for Buff headwear since early April. Walker and his colleagues are dealing with significantly increased demand while working from home - a challenge that previous natural disasters, such as floods and wildfires, have helped prepare them for, he said.

The shipping efficiencies put in place during the previous calamities have “helped us navigate this and work as a team” during the COVID-19 outbreak, he said.

Coronavirus or not, they’ve got their customers covered.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com.

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