By Randi Altman
Fred Ruckel got his start in post at New York’s Post Perfect in the ‘90s. From there he grew his skills and experience before opening his own shop, Stitch. While spending his days as a Flame artist, in his spare time Ruckel and his wife Natasha invented something called the Ripple Rug. They’ve since moved to upstate New York, where they built an extensive post suite and studio under the name RuckSackNY.
What is the Ripple Rug, you ask? It’s essentially a cat playground in a rug, but their site describes it as “a multifunction pet enrichment system mainly geared toward house cats.”
Fred and Natasha (whose own career includes stints at creative agencies as well as Autodesk) felt strongly about manufacturing the Ripple Rug in the US, and they wanted to use recycled materials. After a bit of research, they found a factory in Georgia and used recycled plastic water bottles in the process. To date they have recycled over 3 million bottles.
To help promote the Ripple Rug, the Ruckels leveraged their creative capabilities from years of working in advertising and post to create a brand from scratch.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, the Ruckels realized they were in a unique position — they could repurpose the Georgia factory to make masks and face shields for health workers and the general population. While reformatting the factory to this type of manufacturing is still ongoing, the Ruckels wanted to make sure that, in the meantime, people would have access to high-quality face masks. So they sourced masks via their textile production partners, had them tested in a US lab, and have already sold over 40,000 masks under their new brand, SnugglyMask.
Many have taken to making their own masks, so the factory will also be making filters to help beef up that protection, which will allow people to buy filter packs for their homemade masks. Check out their video showing people how to make their own masks. “We should have that part functional this week or next. Our mask supplier is quickly trying to put together the production pipeline so we can make masks here, but those machines are automated and take a bit of engineering to make them work properly.”
These materials will be both sold to the general public and donated to those on the frontlines. The Ruckels have once again used their creative backgrounds to build a brand and tell a story. Let’s find out more from Fred…
With the recent COVID-19 crisis, you realized that your factory could be used to make masks — both for civilians and for medical professionals and those on the frontline. How did you come to that realization, and what were your first steps?
When the pandemic broke out, we immediately took action to help the cause. Our factory makes many textile products, and we knew we could set up an assembly line to make masks, shields and gowns, and with some funding, we could pretty much make anything. We have the know-how and ability, as well as 60,000 square feet of space, which we are cutting a chunk out of to make a clean room to handle the process in as sterile an environment as possible.
I reached out to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, our local congressman and Empire State Development. At the same time, I was communicating with Georgia (we are a registered business in both states) and worked with the Department of Economic Development and the National Association of Manufacturers. That led us to the Global Center for Medical Innovation.
So while that was happening, you decided to sell and donate masks?
Yes. While waiting for responses to help us retool our factory, we had to do something to be an immediate help. We did not want to wait on the sidelines for red tape to be cut; we had to come up with Plan B while waiting for government help.
Plan B meant using our resources to allow us to purchase masks without several levels of middlemen raising the prices. We still ended up with two levels of middlemen, but it’s better than five! In manufacturing, it is all about pennies. This is a lesson I learned from a mentor early on with our Ripple Rug project. Middlemen make pennies, a nickel becomes $50,000 in profit on 1 million units, so pennies add up, and middlemen capitalize on that. My goal is to remove middlemen and get directly sourced goods to people in need at the best price possible.
Can you describe both masks and the materials used?
In our PSA, we demonstrate the use of a cloth bandana versus a basic medical mask. We are looking to filter particulate matter down to the micron level, smaller than the human eye can see. For reference, the human eye can only see particles as small as 50 to 60 microns (think about a fleck of dust caught in sunlight). The particles we are looking to “arrest” are down to .3 microns, smaller than red blood cells.
The mechanical weaving of cloth masks makes them porous. This allows particulate matter to pass right through, as the holes are enormous in scale. The key component is the middle layer is called “melt-blown.” The outer layer is a polypropylene spun-bond fiber, and the inside layer is an acrylic spun-bond fiber. Sandwiched between is the melt -blown layer, which is the fine particulate catcher. Each layer captures a different size particle. Think of it as a video production — it would be like adding multiple scrims to lights to block light, except we are blocking particles in this case.
You recently created a PSA detailing the differences in the masks people are using to protect themselves. What did you use to shoot and post?
The PSA was shot using a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. We have some great Fiilex LED lighting kits with a ring light and a 7-foot white shooting tent. My intent wasn’t to make a full-on video. I was shooting elements to make animating gifs to show the testing process. When I loaded the footage into Adobe Premiere and made a selects reel, I realized we had the elements of a PSA … and so a spot was born.
Natasha looked at my selects and quickly switched into producer mode and pieced together a storyline. We then had to shoot more elements. Fortunately, our shooting studio is in our home, so there were no delays. I shot an element, loaded it, shot another and so on until we had the pieces to make it work.
Natasha created graphic elements in Adobe Illustrator while I worked on the edit in Premiere. We also took product pics in raw mode for the packaging and demos, which we developed in camera raw within Photoshop. We shot the video portion in 4K, which allowed us to punch in for closeups and pull back to reframe as if it were a multi-cam shoot.
We filmed on a stainless steel table to give it a clinical feel while blowing it out a little bit to feel ethereal and hazy. My favorite shot is the water dripping on the table; the lighting and table make it feel like mercury.
Why was it so important for you to turn your business into the mask business?
There are so many reasons that it is hard to pinpoint. I knew we had the capability, and our pipeline was efficient enough to pull it off from start to finish. As an inventor I’ve seen people take advantage of situations for financial gain — like knocking off products — and that means making fake masks, which cause more harm than good.
I saw an opportunity to protect everyone I know by supplying quality masks they can trust. On internet sites, fake masks can look identical. In fact, the pics might be of the real mask, but they ship you a cheap version that’s missing some key elements.
I do not cut corners. As a Flame artist, I continually dealt with clients saying, ‘It’s good enough, let’s move to the next shot.” Good enough is not what I do; I do not have a halfway button. I’d look like a bad Flame artist if I didn’t go all the way.
Knowing that we can play an active part in protecting my friends and family and colleagues in the post community by taking on this single effort made me pull the trigger. With that, SnugglyMask.com was born.
Are you guys selling and donating masks? How is that working?
We are both selling and donating masks. One of our RuckSackNY clients is a philanthropist named Josh Malone. As his marketing agency, we created a mask donation program. The first hospitals we shipped to were Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and Westchester Medical Center. We will be donating to hospitals nationwide and also selling masks to hospitals and the public via our site, https://www.snugglymask.com/. This is a place people can go for a mask they can trust and that has been lab tested. We built a brand in just a week, and sales simply exploded due to our honest content and demand.
Why is it important for you to make sure your products are being made in the US?
We make the Ripple Rug in the US to provide jobs for US workers. There are more than 100 people working at 10 companies in five states for Ripple Rug. I order carpet 100,000 square feet at a time and cannot imagine shipping it from overseas with the demand we must meet. Shipping from China takes weeks, if not months.
Making it in the USA means continual production to meet demand while reinvesting to grow along the way. Sure, I could produce my products in China and make a lot more money, but I am proud to say American workers put food on the table and children go to school because we make our products in the USA. That alone makes it worth it to me.
Do you feel the videos you create help get more people to pay attention to the product?
We feel effective videos engage viewers and build intrigue about our product. We create a range of videos, not just the regular polished spots. Consumers appreciate the feeling of user-generated content, as it adds to the authenticity of the product. If every spot is beautiful, it feels staged.
We have a series called “Cats Gone Wild” in which all of the videos are made solely of user-generated content sourced from YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. I edit them to a stock music track and create a theme for each video. We add titles to call out the social media names to give credit to the person who posted the video and to give them a little spotlight on our show reel. This, in turn, creates engagement, as it encourages them to share the video on their social media channels.
I keep my edits to around a minute for this series to “get in and get out” before losing the viewer’s attention. The original content is cut to a whimsical track and is fun to watch — who doesn’t love cute cat videos? We share these on social media, and that helps grow our sales. Our customers love it, they get acknowledgement, our brand grows, and we are able to show our product in action.
Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years.