Calgary company takes customized approach to safety vests
"When you're working construction, your safety vest is your tool box, your kitchen and your communications centre. It has to work for you."
That's Hayley Young speaking, and she should know. The owner of Can-Stitch (1999) Ltd. in Calgary, Young creates custom safety vests for the construction and oil and gas industries, designing them so they fit, have the appearance the customer wants, and make working easier.
Although she uses a basic style, Young talks to customers about their specific needs. Those include company or site-specific colours and preferences for where the retro-reflective trim (tape) is placed. It also includes changes in design. A foreman might require several pockets for radios and cellphones, for example, and those can be placed where it's most convenient, like near the shoulder so the microphone can be heard on a noisy site. Someone else might need to carry heavy tools, so Can-Stitch designs pockets of an appropriate size and shape, puts them where they'll work best, and lines them with super-strong material like Kevlar.
"My customers appreciate a product that works for them," Young says.
A single mother of five, Young didn't intend to get into manufacturing safety vests. Growing up with a passion for sewing, she took Fashion Merchandising at Olds College. In the early 1990s, Young started manufacturing safety vests as single-order custom projects, from home. Over the years, the business evolved and was formalized into its present corporation in 1999.
Much of the work in the early years was large-volume projects, without much customization. After the economic changes that began in 2008, there was less interest in paying for quality. Looking for a niche, Young started listening closely to people who wear safety vests.
"Hayley has taken the initiative to source out people in the industry to give feedback on what we need," says Nick Pryde, who has spent 28 years in the industry.
Just over a year ago, Pryde showed Young an old safety vest. As soon as she saw it, she knew it was one of hers and asked how old it was. The answer was a surprise.
"Thirteen years!" says Young, who knew as soon as she the vest that it was one of hers. "It was worn but in great shape for its age. This is the standard my vests will always be made to."
Pryde has a lot of ideas for improving safety vests and has been working closely with Young to develop prototypes that he then tries out on the job. He tells her the issues he's dealt with, like pocket contents dropping out when you bend over, having to take your cellphone out of your pocket, and being too hot or too cold, and Young and her team go to the drawing board to figure out a solution.
As a result, Can-Stitch's basic vest design comes with Velcro that keeps pockets closed. Options include a transparent front on the cellphone pocket that allows the wearer to see who's calling without removing it, and mesh that replaces some of the fabric for warm weather or fleece lining for cooler temperatures.
Safety is always a consideration. That means keeping up with evolving standards and knowing when the standards apply. Young explains that CSA Z96-09, which addresses high-visibility safety apparel, must be followed when working near roadways but, in Alberta, there's flexibility in whether the standard applies for other types of work. Companies that want to ensure they are meeting the standard can choose from three classes of high-visibility clothing and three levels of retro-reflective trim, depending on the level of risk. She'll work with safety officers to help them assess the risk so that employees are properly protected, but companies don't have to spend more than required.
Can-Stitch also ensures that all materials meet standards and they have the certification to back up their claim.
"A tag inside the vest doesn't guarantee that every material used in that product meets standards," Young says. "If a vest has to be fire-resistant, that means everything from the fabric to the embroidery thread to the backing has to be certified [fire-resistant], and you don't know unless you see the paperwork."
She sources her fabrics from Davey Textile Solutions Inc. in Edmonton, a company that also exposes her to what's new as technology advances.
"We're old school in how we construct our vests, because it allows us to ensure quality," she says. "But we're always looking at what's coming next, too, like fibres impregnated with silver and electronics so you can monitor the temperature of the person through the garment. There is even a fibre that will change as you heat up; it will cool you down. That's what we have to look forward to."
As for Pryde, he can't say enough about the durability of Can-Stitch's vests. "It's form and function," he says. "These vests are going to be all the rage."
Can-Stitch's vests can be purchased through Butler Survey Supplies Ltd. with locations in Richmond, Edmonton, Calgary and Regina, or vests can be ordered through Billboard Direct Promotional Services Inc. in Fort McMurray. As well, custom projects can be ordered directly through Can-Stitch.
IS YOUR SAFETY TAPE DOING ITS JOB?
Retro-reflective trim or tape has a lifespan, and there are low-quality products on the market. Can-Stitch (1999) Ltd.'s Hayley Young has a roll of trim purported to be a 3M product-you can see holographic "3M" markings on the tape at a certain angle-that she suspected was a knock-off. Representatives from 3M and a contact at the University of Alberta proved her right.
"The glass bead structure inside is like a few chocolate chips in your cookie batter," she says. "The result is much less reflectivity in low light, and more risk. The real 3M tape has a very dense glass bead structure, increasing its reflectivity in low light and reducing the risk to the worker."
It's a good idea to check out how well your retro-reflective trim is working. Young suggests taking your vest into a dark room and shining a flashlight at it.
"Ask yourself, is that what I want to look like in a low-light situation with something coming at me?" she says. If the answer is no, it's time for a new vest.