Vancouver Apparel Companies Outfit Frontline Workers

Local Design Brands join in by Raising Funds to Support COVID-19 Relief Efforts

Vancouver’s ever-growing list of homegrown clothing brands has become internationally recognized for technological innovation, performance-oriented design and sustainable production. Now, local Vancouver apparel companies are redirecting focus from fashion to function to help outfit frontline healthcare practitioners with life-saving protective apparel. 

Mustang Survival – a locally based engineer and manufacturer of life jackets and survival suits for water rescue professionals, military elites and commercial and industrial mariners – has changed course to focus on production of high-quality hospital gowns that are fully waterproof and level 3-certified personal protective equipment (PPE) . Alongside fellow outdoor apparel makers like Arc’teryx and Boardroom Clothing, Mustang Survival is collaborating with Vancouver Coastal Health to design and produce gowns that bring new levels of protection to healthcare workers. Once designs are approved, Mustang Survival plans to make the gowns’ technical specifications public so manufacturers around the world can likewise unite suppliers with sewers to craft similar gear for their local healthcare teams.

“With increased demand for PPE, there was a need to get ahead of the problem and look to local sources to solve it,” said Mark Anderson, director of engineering at Mustang Survival and Chair of the BC Apparel and Gear Association. “Our 50-year history of developing innovative solutions, combined with the unique advantage of being part of a cutting-edge design community here in Vancouver, provides us with the ability to adjust and pivot our focus on developing a solution.” 

Arc’teryx has likewise committed to producing 30,000 gowns in the coming weeks, which will contribute to a collective total of more than 90,000 gowns provided by Arc’teryx, Mustang Survival and Boardroom Clothing. Arc’teryx has already manufactured 500 units.

“We received the call from local health authorities as the world as we knew it was turning upside down, and simply knew we needed to help,” said Shirley Chan, senior director of product commercialization and quality. “As makers of outdoor products, there wasn’t much we could do on the medical front-lines except follow guidelines to social distance and work from home. However, as makers of sewn products we knew we could turn our expertise to support the medical community. Making the right gear is something we know.”

Fashion-forward manufacturers are also lending support 

On March 21, Vancouver-based Smash + Tess – an ethically minded women’s loungewear brand – raised $20,000 for the World Health Organization (WHO) in a single evening by hosting an Instagram Live “slumber party” featuring celebrity guests like Ashley Greene (of the Vancouver and BC-filmed Twilight) and Roxy Earle (Real Housewives of Toronto). The virtual fundraiser was inspired by the overwhelming number of messages received by the Smash + Tess team from people struggling with isolation who wanted to help those in need. The resulting three-hour online event encompassed party-style games like Truth or Dare and Would You Rather, supporting sales of the brand’s cult-status rompers. All proceeds were donated to WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which helps communities around the world prevent, detect and respond to the ongoing pandemic.  

“We’ve always taken the mantra that our Smash + Tess Rompers look good, feel good and allow us to do good. We have a highly engaged community, and the week prior to our virtual Romper Party they had expressed the desire for greater connection and to support the fight against COVID-19,” said Ashley Freeborn, co-founder. “It was a no-brainer for us to create an initiative where we could foster happiness in a difficult time and fundraise for an organization with far-reaching impact. Our community came out strong, surpassing our original fundraising goal of $15,000 CAD and hitting a massive $20,000 in just 3 hours.” 

Towards the end of March, Vancouver designer Jason Matlo, known for crafting bespoke luxury garments, launched an initiative to create non-medical masks and face shields. The gear will be donated to Mutual Aid Vancouver, whose volunteers help with grocery delivery and medication pickup for high-risk groups, including the elderly and immunocompromised. Driven by a GoFundMe campaign, Matlo’s initiative intends to divert the public from buying medical-grade equipment needed by healthcare providers in lieu of non-PPE alternatives. All masks are being designed with guidance from a healthcare professional. 

More than 200 apparel companies have design operations in Vancouver, ranging from emerging startups to companies recognized as global benchmarks. Beyond Vancouver’s broad appeal for creative talent drawn to active and outdoorsy lifestyles, our city is well-suited as a base of operations for apparel companies requiring easy access to key US and Asian markets. 

Companies searching for an added dimension of sustainable design, zero-waste, circular economy and other values-based principles in their operations will find a supportive, collaborative and resilient community in Vancouver. 

This extends beyond the apparel sector, and there are many other examples of small businesses across other diverse industries moving to support COVID-19 relief efforts.

Is your business is also looking for opportunities to pivot or provide supplies to the COVID-19 effort?

The City of Vancouver has just debuted Give a Hand Vancouver, an initiative dedicated to assess and streamline the offers it is receiving from businesses and other organizations.

The Government of British Columbia has also launched the COVID-19 Supply Hub, where businesses may donate or supply the priority products listed on the site, or offer other services and products. The COVID-19 Supply Hub is another example of a swift public–private collaboration, this time between the BC health authorities and the tech community.