British Columbia

B.C. outdoor wear companies change gears, start making protective gowns for health-care workers

A B.C. company specializing in life jackets and survival suits has jumped into the COVID-19 crisis to manufacture life-protecting hospital gowns for B.C.'s health workers. 

Mustang Survival and Arc'teryx are working with other companies to provide 90,000 gowns in coming weeks

Polly Zou, an employee of Mustang Survival, holds up an example of the protective gowns her factory in Burnaby, B.C., has started to manufacture for Vancouver's health care workers. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

A B.C. company specializing in making life jackets and survival suits has jumped into the COVID-19 crisis to manufacture life-protecting hospital gowns for B.C.'s health workers. 

Mustang Survival of Burnaby, B.C., has partnered with a team of local apparel makers to deliver 90,000 gowns to Vancouver Coastal Health in the coming weeks. 

"As soon as we started to hear [about the gown] shortages ... we expected to jump in and start helping out," said Mark Anderson, head of engineering at Mustang Survival.

Mustang Survival has retooled its production, dropping life jackets and survival suits for the time being to re-focus on making another kind of survival gear altogether: high quality hospital gowns. 

Mark Anderson is the director of engineering at Mustang Survival. The company's motto, We Save Lives for a Living, has taken on a whole new meaning during the COVID-19 crisis. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

Mustang and other clothing makers worked with Vancouver Coastal Health for two weeks to figure out the right design for the gowns, known as isolation gowns.

Vancouver Coastal Health 'progressive'

Anderson credits Vancouver Coastal Health for having the foresight to approach the B.C. Apparel and Gear Association about two weeks ago — as isolation measures were ramping up — to see if its members might be able to help provide gowns and even masks. 

"Vancouver Coastal Health was very progressive," said Anderson, who is also chair of the association. 

Mustang Survival usually makes survival suits and life vests, but they've changed gears and are now sewing medical gowns. (Mustang Survival)

Mustang Survival worked with fellow members, including Arc'teryx, Boardroom Clothing and KenDor Textiles to source fabric, design, manufacture, and sew the gowns, he said. 

Another company, K-Bro Linen Systems, which launders surgical linens and gowns for Vancouver Coastal Health, checked for washability.

Like a rain jacket

The gowns had to be made to exact specifications, but because the material normally used for medical gowns is in short supply worldwide, a bit of creativity was required.

So Anderson says his company "pivoted" and decided to use materials his company was already using in its waterproof jackets and dry suits. 

"It's a waterproof breathable membrane, so similar to what you'd have in a rain jacket or a ski jacket."

Because regular hospital gown material is in short supply worldwide, Mustang's gowns will be made from breathable and waterproof fabric, similar to a rain jacket. (Mustang Survival/supplied)

The gowns are also washable and reusable. 

He says someone at the hospital joked  "some people are going to take these gowns home they're so nice."

In a written statement to CBC, Vancouver Coastal Health said it's "grateful for the generous collaboration of community partners" and wants to work as much as possible with local businesses for solutions.

Anderson did not say how much VCH is paying for the gowns, but that they are "below market rate." 

Arc'teryx starts this weekend

Arc'teryx, an outdoor wear company that was founded in B.C. but is now owned by a Chinese parent company, says it is gearing up its facility in New Westminster to start manufacturing hospital gowns this weekend.

Arc'teryx says its New Westminster clothing factory will also produce protective gowns for hospital workers. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

In an email, Shirley Chan, director of product quality at Arc'teryx, said the company worked quickly to "pattern, test prototypes and create specs" for the local apparel industry to produce the gowns. 

Anderson says his association is now getting calls from hospitals in places like Toronto and the United States that also want to purchase the gowns. 

His company intends to produce 5,000 gowns a week for the next two months. 

"It's a very special feeling for me to feel that you can actually help and try and do something," he said. 

Vancouver Coastal Health has put in an order for 90,000 high-quality protective gowns from B.C. factories. (Mustang Survival/supplied)

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