If you work in the oilpatch, then you've probably graced the aisles at the store formerly known as Mark's Work Warehouse.

Rebranded Mark's in 2012 (who knew?), the store sells coveralls, steel toe work boots and gloves for subzero temperatures — everything a tradesperson needs to stay safe on the job.

And in the next few years, more of those protective garments could be designed, tested and manufactured right here in Alberta.

That's thanks to the Apparel Innovation Centre, which officially opened on Thursday.

The new facility is a partnership between Alberta Garment in northeast Calgary and Olds College, which offers Fashion Marketing and Apparel Technology programs.

"It helps facilitate ideas — it's like an incubator in a way for ideas," said Adrian Bussoli, president of Alberta Garment. 

Adrian Bussoli

Adrian Bussoli of Alberta Garment says the new centre will be 'like an incubator in a way for ideas.' (CBC)

"It's a way of developing a product and then taking it to market and developing commercialization."

The centre will cater to entrepreneurs designing apparel for construction, mining, military and the oil and gas sector.

First in the west

The Apparel Innovation Centre is Western Canada's first apparel and research facility.

Bussoli says before now, Albertans wanting to design workwear had to travel to the U.S. or Montreal to give their prototypes a whirl. He says that's been causing barriers for local innovators.

safety apparel

Some of the protective gear already being tested at the Apparel Innovation Centre in Calgary. (CBC)

"Now they don't have the distance [to go]," he said. "They can actually develop their ideas right on the spot, test their ideas, then they can cost it."

There is a fee to use the facility, it's not free.

However, it is subsidized by the federal government — which invested close to $3 million in the facility through Western Economic Diversification Canada.

Bussoli says that's allowed them to purchase state-of-the-art machinery such as:

  • Hot liquid and steam protection testing chambers to allow businesses to test personal protective equipment for burn resistance

  • A thermal comfort testing chamber equipped with a manikin capable of simulating many of the physiological conditions that happen when the human body is trying to stay warm or cool down. By putting their clothing on one of these manikins, researchers can further study and evaluate the performance of their apparel.

Bussoli admits the new facility will be affected by the downturn in Alberta's energy sector, but says there are plenty of other industries around the world "testing comfort."

"It's also at a time when the dollar is at a low point which allows manufacturers in Canada to take advantage of commercialization that will come out of this centre," Bussoli explained.

"So it's actually an opportune time."