Jennifer Graham of Salts and West models one of the company’s reusable fabric face masks. (Submitted)

Cowichan Valley clothing company focuses on face masks during pandemic

Salts and West hopes to make thousands of masks a week to help fight COVID-19

A small clothing company from the Cowichan Valley is focusing all of its production on making face masks for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Salts and West usually manufactures clothing out of fabrics from sustainable sources — everything from sweaters and tunics to pants and dresses — but all of its efforts are going into making masks for frontline workers and others to help fend off the coronavirus.

As soon as owner Jennifer Graham heard about the mask shortage and realized she could help, she got her company involved.

“I saw that hospitals in the U.S. were making calls for masks,” she explains. “So I assumed that if U.S. hospitals were running out of supplies, Canadian hospitals were running out of supplies.”

Graham started cutting fabric for masks on the weekend, and her 10 seamstresses are hard at work assembling them. Shehas ordered more fabric from Vancouver so Salts and West can ramp up production.

“We’re hoping that by the end of the week we have 1,000 made,” Graham says.

The masks are made of cotton and poly cotton, as recommended by the BC Centre for Disease Control, with a pocket to insert a surgical mask, such as the much sought-after N95. The fabric masks are reusable and can help the surgical masks last longer. Salts and West is including a piece of bamboo fleece that can be put inside the mask as an additional filter, although Graham advises that a proper surgical mask is better.

The masks alone are not certified medical devices, she emphasizes.

“It’s not ideal,” she says. “But when people are running out and have nothing, it’s better than nothing.”

Founded on Vancouver Island in 2005, Salts and West has been operating out of Duncan for the last eight years. Graham cuts the fabric at home, and the seamstresses work at their homes, so the pandemic and the resulting social isolation hasn’t had any impact on the company.

“It’s not like we’re going to a big factory to do it,” Graham says. “We can keep working through this thing. It’s really wonderful that we can do this.”

Salts and West will donate masks where they can, but most will be sold on their website (saltsandwest.com). They are being made available to anyone who wants them, but orders from clinics, police and other emergency personnel will be filled first.

“Anybody else can order them as well,” Graham says. “We should be able to keep up.”

Coronavirus

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Jennifer Graham of Salts and West models one of the company’s reusable fabric face masks. (Submitted)

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