DAN CEARNS, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, for The Standard
DURHAM: When COVID-19 hit the Canadian economic landscape hard, Durham Region’s custom outerwear designer and manufacturer for those using mobility assistance, and online company Koolway Sports shifted their focus 100 per cent, in order to keep all their employees working. President John A. Cook and Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Gallienne decided, in late March, the company, which normally makes coats and outerwear for people with disabilities, would shift to making PPE Reusable AAMI-Level 2 non-medical gowns. “We are classed as a mini company, as we have less than 10 employees. They are all here in Durham region. The big thing was, we wanted to keep the staff employed. In late March, we did have standing KoolKoat orders but our clients in North America understandably placed everthing on hold, dealing with their personal situations,” Cook stated “We were asked to make masks numerous times, but we were not going to make a simple mask that might lead to liability issues down the road. We were not going to take a bed sheet and make a mask. If we had to do it, [we would do it] with the proper material. We were contacted by Ontario Health and were sent the required 3-4 layers of special fabric and the Quebec Mill, and after review, it was not financially possible for us. Koolway Sports has not qualified for any government grants because of our size. That’s when Jennifer and I posed the question of ‘what about KoolGowns?’,” Mr. Cook told The Standard. After deciding they would make gowns, Jennifer dug deep into her 15 years of Koolway research and located a USA company they had dealings with years before. “He directed us to a mill in Quebec, and when we called on the Friday, we realized we both met him in Toronto some 9 years earlier with another company. We hit a home run, as they are one of the few Mills making fabric conforming to the testing levels of PPE AAMI-Level 2 grade material. Koolway Sports received a sample of the material 3 days later, we had a sample KoolGown made 3 days [after that] and John shared [it] with a focus group. We finalized everything, including [the] final pattern, the ordering of all material and notions from Quebec, Toronto and Winnipeg. All this was completed in under 3 weeks, when during normal times [it] might take months etc.,” Ms. Gallienne said. Koolway Sports is proud to be able to sell people a reusable, washable AAMI-Level 2 KoolGown. “People are now looking to buy more sustainable products, 100 percent Canadian material and 100 percent Canadian made; that is what we offer,” Ms. Gallienne said. “[This] mirrors our vision and mission of offering Canadian Proud Products, and the reusable aspect is important to Mr. Cook.” The duo refused to sacrifice quality when making protective equipment. “If we are going to do something, we do it first class. I refuse to do a ‘throwaway anything.’ Some of the caregivers and the hospitals and the senior homes, they are using 10+ disposable gowns a day, and it’s all going to landfill sites. They are not biodegradable. Our winter koat products last five to 10 years. So when someone buys it and pays the money, they are getting huge longevity out of it,” said by both Mr. Cook and Ms. Gallienne. Their customers have resoundingly responded positive to the change. “There was quite a bit of reaction when we first posted. We just had schematic drawings out there, saying we are pivoting and this is what we are doing. We had such a great response right off the bat. People were thanking us, and still to this day people are saying ‘what an amazing thing you are doing,'” Ms. Gallienne said. Despite being a small, local business, the company ships around the world. They can do gown orders of anywhere between one to 500+ KoolGown’s. They have no minimum, and love the smaller orders, as in many cases the buyer might be a caregiver, family support worker, or even families who care for someone in a group home or other type of care facility. More Group Homes have been requiring visitors to wear masks, gloves and protective Gown’s, so Koolway Sports wants all to be protected during these times. “As we say with our standard Koolway Products now applies to our KoolGowns. We want all to ‘Live Life the Koolway,’” Mr. Cook said.