Erin Buckland, vice-president of IFR Workwear in Red Deer, shows the industrial protective equipment that the company manufactured in Red Deer and Mexico before the pandemic. Production has since switched to mostly masks. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer company making 150,000 masks for students by the end of August

“We’re happy to do our part,” says v-p

Making 150,000 masks for students in three weeks will be a tall order for Red Deer-based IFR Workwear.

But after 15 years of creating personal protective equipment for various industries, Lyn Radford — who founded the company in 2005 with her husband Reg and their daughter Erin Buckland — isn’t sweating this latest challenge.

“We will need more sewers, though,” Radford admitted. “We’ll definitely need more local sewers…”

With a manufacturing/distribution plant that employs 30 people in Red Deer’s Queen’s Business Park and another 200-worker factory in Mexico, IFR won a provincial government contract to make 10 per cent of the masks needed to help protect Alberta students from COVID-19 once classes resume.

The other 90 per cent of masks will be created by the U.S.-based chain Old Navy.

(A government spokesperson stated the time-crunch necessitated going to companies known for high-quality standards and an ability to fill large orders quickly.)

Radford is excited IFR will be helping to keep young Albertans healthy. She considers the company’s contract “excellent news for Red Deer” — despite some criticism about her family’s Tory affiliations, political contributions, and that IFR operates within Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s riding.

Although Premier Jason Kenney and LaGrange toured the Red Deer facility last month, Radford said IFR had no direct discussions with the government about the contract.

As a wholesaler, the company doesn’t deal with the end user, she added, stressing the mask contract that IFR bid on was put forward by its distributors.

The Red Deer company had been producing personal protective equipment mostly for oilfield workers until the slowdown in the industry. More recently, high-visibility, flame-retardant equipment was produced for electrical workers and miners.

Discussions about switching over to mask-making started as far back as January, when a new coronavirus was making people sick in China, said Radford. Once the pandemic spread to Canada in March, IFR “was out of the gates running,” manufacturing face coverings.

The company is, so far, making reusable cloth masks, but Buckland, the company’s vice-president, said it has also ordered a machine to start creating surgical, three-ply, disposable face masks as well.

IFR’s masks for schools will be 65 per cent polyester and 35 per cent cotton, with a two-ply design and elastic ear loops. There’s an aluminum nose bridge and antimicrobial technology in the fabric that can be activated with a bit of bleach in the wash, said Buckland.

She and Radford are pleased that the 31,000-square-foot manufacturing/distribution centre in north Red Deer is being recognized for the quality of its products.

Producing effective, well-made protective equipment for industrial workers was why the family got into the manufacturing business after previously running companies that cleaned industrial mats and truck parts, said Radford.

“We were comfortable with the integrity of our products.”

Buckland added, “We’re happy to do our part to help out, as best as we can,” during the global health crisis.

IFR is certified with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Businesses as Erin and Lyn are of Metis heritage. It offers a scholarship for Indigenous students at Red Deer College.

Radford, who helped bring the 2019 Canada Winter Games to Red Deer, said the family’s focus has long been on the community.

The company has sometimes been asked to relocate to elsewhere in the province or country, “but our answer has always been ‘No. This is our home,’” said Radford.

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