Quebec jeans makers, suit manufacturers and hockey equipment companies have transformed their operations to provide vital protective equipment to health-care workers.
With global supply chains interrupted, and demand for medical equipment at an all-time high, health-care institutions have had chronic shortages of gowns, gloves, masks and other protective equipment. That has forced health authorities to look for made-in-Canada solutions as they try to replenish depleted stock and prepare for a possible second wave of the virus.
Here is how some local companies have answered the call:
“We reorganized our factory in a huge way and retooled it twice now,” said Yoga Jeans founder Eric Wazana. “We also added 100 jobs since May 26 and we need another 150 employees, so we are really super busy.
“We got a contract with the federal government for millions of gowns and we’re shipping out truckloads every single day. By the end of this month, we’ll have made 1 million gowns, and everything is cut and sewn out of the Beauce plant. The fabric is from Ontario.”
The company put much of its denim-making machinery into storage and purchased new equipment to make medical gowns out of its St-Côme-Linière factory. So far, it received orders for 3 million gowns, most of which were ordered by the federal government, which will distribute them throughout the country.
“I’ve gotten calls and letters from British Columbia all the way to Prince Edward Island because we have our label on them that reads: ‘YJ cares,’” Wazana said. “It’s very exciting to know that we managed to go from making jeans to medical gowns within a month, and the employees are very proud.”
For nearly 97 years, Samuelsohn has been making high-end suits and men’s fashion garments out of its factory on Parc Ave. near Jean-Talon St. However, when the pandemic broke out, the company chose to make medical gowns for use by doctors and nurses treating infected patients.
Samuelson is now in the midst of hiring spree, as it has been contracted by the Quebec government to produce 200,000 medical-grade disposable gowns for doctors, nurses and orderlies. Samuelson also has a contract with the federal government to make gowns.
The company is now in the process of getting a new gown manufacturing factory in Montreal’s garment district, which is expected to be up and running in the next month. It is recruiting 100 new sewers by offering what it calls an industry-high wage of up to $16 per hour. Granovsky said the high wage is necessary because the company has found it challenging to find workers.
Granovsky said he hopes medical gowns can become a long-term business for the company.
“It could be a really great business opportunity for us because there is a dearth of manufacturers in North America, producing PPEs on North American soil, so there is a real for-profit opportunity to be first in line.”
As one of the world’s leading makers of protective equipment, Medicom has navigated its way through the AIDS crisis, SARS, Ebola and H1N1.
However, the Pointe-Claire company, founded in 1988, never encountered a health-care crisis at its home base.
“We created a plan for social distancing in record time like so many other companies,” said Medicom president and global chief operating officer Guillaume Laverdure. “We had anticipated a supply plan, a manufacturing plan, a ramp-up plan, but not a social distancing. That was something that was new.”
Keeping operations running was key for the company, because hospitals around the world depend on Medicom to supply them with equipment that is vital in fighting the virus.
“When China shut down in January, the source of 80 per cent of PPE in the world was suddenly shut down to exports,” Laverdure said.
Medicom was awarded a 10-year contract by the federal government in March to produce 24 million surgical masks per year and 20 million N95 masks per year. It opened a new factory on Stinson St. in St-Laurent, and Laverdure said he expects to be able to ramp up to full production in the next few weeks.
The company has also increased production in most of its major markets, and its worldwide production is set to double within nine months.
When most major companies shut down because of the pandemic, the managers of CCM’s St-Jean-sur-Richelieu pro custom equipment facility went to work to convert the factory so it could manufacture protective supplies.
The company came up with a design for face shields, got approval from Health Canada and converted its factory all in the span of two weeks.
“Normally something like this would take months,” said Caroline Losson, chief marketing officer for CCM hockey.
CCM now has orders for 250,000 protective face shields, and has a dedicated team of 15 employees cranking out more than 2,500 of them per day.
Losson said the company hopes to sell its visors through retail partners, and envisions medical visors as one of its product lines for the near future.
Losson said the St-Jean plant makes custom hockey equipment for professional athletes, so it has the right combination of employees with expertise in technology, craft and design to make the necessary transformation.
“We have very well-trained and skilled people who can pivot quickly,” she said. “The beauty of this is it has allowed us to bring back some workers early. People are extremely proud to be contributing to the effort. We distributed the equipment to our employees and are using it as we slowly but surely return to work as well.”
The company has also purchased and donated 500,000 surgical face masks to be used by health-care workers across Canada, in partnership with roughly 30 professional athletes.
The first 100,000 masks arrived from China by plane at the end of May and were given to the CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’Île-de-Montréal. The rest are to arrive by ship in the coming weeks.