From Alpha SV to PPE: Arc’teryx Fights COVID-19 With a Production Shift

words :: Ben Osborne

We’ve seen a number of companies step up to the plate when it comes to shifting their manufacturing from their gear to protective equipment for frontline medical workers. When we saw one of the most high-tech gear companies in the world was shifting towards making medical gowns, we had to know—how exactly did Arc’teryx make the switch?

As of April 20, the brand had produced 1,700 gowns, with plans to produce 30,000 gowns at the ARC’One facility.

The initial call came from the BC Apparel & Gear Association, the group heading up the effort to provide medical supplies to the Vancouver Health Authority through outdoor brands. In just 10 days of collaborating with local health authorities, Arc’teryx was producing reusable medical gowns—an impressive feat, but the kind of excellence we’ve come to expect from the brand.

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Business as usual at ARC’One—with a twist. Photo :: Arc’teryx

When the call came in, Shirley Chan, the Senior Director Product Commercialization and Quality, and her team jumped at the opportunity to help any way they could. “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,” said Chan.

“But as makers of sewn products, we could turn our expertise to support the medical community in this fight.”

The finished product. Photo: Arc’teryx

While the brand had initially looked to help with the production of masks as well, the materials needed to make the masks were not available, so they went to work on producing medical gowns.

One of the barriers to producing these was to get the specifications right so that they would actually protect the workers that they would be going to. First, they had to find the correct materials. The material they settled upon was a DintexMesh Back Softshell 3-layer. The face fabric is composed of polyester and spandex with a TPU laminate, and a 100% mesh backer. Sound complicated? Well, that’s par for the course when it comes to Arc’teryx materials.

The final product in action. Photo: Arc’teryx

Once that was done, the team had to comply with industry-standard test methods to water resistance, spray penetration, breathability and air permeability. Luckily, they were able to team up with another local brand who had the proper testing equipment, Mustang Survival.

In the end, the process for creating these gowns is not so different from what Arc’teryx always does—while the sewing is a new skill which took some time for employees to learn and implement, the testing, waterproofing, and production of breathable gear share some requirements that made the transition easier than expected.

“While the operations themselves are changing, what doesn’t change is the skillset of our workers.  They are simply reapplying what they already know to new product,” reports Chan.

“Designing a product is about understanding the needs of the user and the environment of these users,” adds Chan. “This is something Arc’teryx understands very well and with medical equipment, we needed to follow medical product specifications as well as to listen and ask the right questions to ensure we manage both the comfort and protection of our front line medical teams.”

As of April 20, the brand had produced 1,700 gowns, with plans to produce 30,000 gowns at the ARC’One facility, and 90,000 overall in collaboration with manufacturing partners Mustang Survival and Boardroom Clothing.

For all the turmoil in the world, it’s calming to see the brands join forces to help get us out of this mess—with everyone working together, we can come out of this stronger than before. —ML