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Quebec medical gown order offers 'lifeline' to Montreal textile company

Montreal Gazette | Frédéric Tomesco

A Montreal textile manufacturer is recalling two-thirds of its workforce thanks to a government contract that will allow it to branch out into medical clothing.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce’s Tricots Liesse plans to bring back about 100 laid-off workers next week after winning a contract Wednesday to make gowns for the Quebec Health Ministry, owner and president Claude Helwani said Thursday.

Production is scheduled to restart Monday, he told the Montreal Gazette in an interview.

Tricots Liesse had to lay off its entire workforce of about 150 in late March after Premier François Legault ordered all non-essential businesses to close in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19. The company normally exports about 90 per cent of production to the U.S., where it counts well-known garment manufacturers Ralph Lauren and Eileen Fisher among its clients.

“This contract is a lifeline,” Helwani said Thursday by telephone. “Our orders went down to zero virtually overnight, and we couldn’t ship anything because all the cutters in New York shut down. We were trying to maintain a certain level of activity, so we started thinking of developing different fabrics.

Founded in 1965, Tricots Liesse makes textile for swimwear, sportswear and mattresses.

Now 72, the Egyptian-born businessman said the company he acquired from its founder about 30 years ago is ready to act as a textile supplier for other Quebec manufacturers that want to make protective personal equipment.

“We’re putting the message out there that if you want to buy fabric to make gowns or masks, we’re able to supply you,” he said. “Basically we’re trying to be a good citizen while giving the maximum pay to all our employees. Some of our them have been with us for 30 years, and we feel a responsibility toward them.”

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