Coquitlam textile company is retooling & retraining to make medical masks

Novo Textiles of Coquitlam usually makes pillows and dog beds but is working to repurpose to aid in Canada’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic

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A Coquitlam textile company that normally manufactures pillows, insert cushions and dog beds is mobilizing its machinery and expertise in the war against the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Jason Zanatta, the president and CEO of Novo Textiles, said his company should be retooled and his workforce of 20 employees trained by next week to begin producing up to 100,000 surgical masks a day.

Zanatta said it’s his company’s way to answer a “call to arms” issued by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau March 20, when he exhorted Canadian companies to pitch in any way they can to ensure a robust supply of medical equipment needed in hospitals, clinics and care homes. Since then, Zanatta said he has been pulling 21-hour days reaching out to contacts in Asia as well as fabric suppliers to be able to shift his production lines as quickly as possible.

“Looking at our skill set, surgical and respirator masks, as well as wipeable medical pillows, are a very similar process and raw material for us to produce,” Zanatta said, adding that, within hours, he was able to secure a fully-automated mask-making machine that is currently en route by air cargo from Asia.

But rejigging a company involves more than setting up new machines and teaching employees how to use them.

Zanatta said he has been spending long hours on the phone with government agencies, health authorities and even local facilities like care homes to secure markets for his new product lines. He’s also having to reconfigure his packaging line to account for the new size and shape of the products the company will be producing.

“It’s a very big task,” Zanatta said. “It has been incredibly busy.”

Despite the exhausting days and nights, Zanatta said he’s “energized” that Novo Textiles is able to do something to address the pandemic rather than sitting on the sidelines stressing about keeping his company open and his employees on the payroll.

And he’s confident the sudden, unexpected investment will continue to pay dividends by introducing a new product amongst his company’s offerings as well as addressing an ongoing need.

“Assuming we can get this pandemic under control, then I would suspect there will still be coronavirus around,” Zanatta said, adding he can then work to make his products available at the retail level as well.

“Our goal… is to get the product gets where it needs to go.”

Read more of our COVID-19 coverage here.

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