Canadian Manufacturing

McCarthy Uniforms redirects production to support frontline workers

The uniform manufacturer is making products such as protective medical masks, isolation suits, and medical-grade gowns

May 6, 2020  by Alanna Fairey, Associate Editor

Vanessa Iarocci wearing a mask in a McCarthy Uniform warehouse based in Toronto.

TORONTO – McCarthy Uniforms Inc. may be best known for school uniforms, but the firm is going back to its roots and redirecting its production to arm frontline workers with protective personal equipment (PPE) to confront COVID-19.

McCarthy is manufacturing products such as protective medical masks, isolation suits, and medical-grade gowns. To date, the company has delivered more than 100,000 units to locations including Sick Kids, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and Hamilton Health Care Network.

Founded back in 1956, McCarthy’s production was long diversified, with the manufacturer making police and nurse uniforms, until the early 2000s when it decided to focus solely on creating uniforms for schools.

According to Vanessa Iarocci, McCarthy Uniforms president, the decision to redirect production to PPE was not just to help frontline workers amid the pandemic, but also as a way to help retain staff jobs.

“Protecting the Canadian manufacturing sector is really important so we have a higher purpose regarding our team,” Iarocci said in an interview with Canadian Manufacturing. “I hope that this crisis really sheds a light on the importance of keeping Canadian-owned companies [in business], so they can retain Canadian jobs.”

For different frontline workers, the uniform they wear requires different materials to accommodate their daily tasks on the job. For example, electricians need 100% cotton uniforms, while fire departments need fire-rated materials. Iarocci said that McCarthy has been making products to accommodate these specific uniform needs.

“It’s not just about fashion or how you look – there’s actually a practical utility to the uniform,” Iarocci said. “Depending on what the workforce is doing, we try to find the fabrications that will work best for the job.”

In terms of the company’s local production, McCarthy is prototyping a level-one medical gown, which is worn for minimal risk during basic care, standard isolation, or in a standard medical unit. The gowns are made from upcycled school uniform fabric.

According to Iarocci, the came from the fact many of McCarthy’s customers had said that they wanted a washable gown to wear over their uniform.

“We are producing a small quantity in the hundreds per week, depending on the demand,” Iarocci shared.

Vanessa Iarocci

Looking ahead at the 2020-2021 school year, Iarocci shared that McCarthy has been fully stocked with product since January, so COVID-19 hasn’t disrupted the manufacturer’s supply chain.

She added that the company is accomodating schools and other customers digitally, having formal discussions over Skype and other communications platforms. In addition, the McCarthy website recently launched a web chat feature so customers can chat with a McCarthy representative immediately if they are unsure about the uniforms.

“We’re taking that customer-first approach. Customers get value from working with us in-store, and we are making sure that when we translate that online we don’t lose what makes us unique,” Iarocci said.

When she joined McCarthy back in 2017, Iarocci was interested in the company’s earlier history and had been looking into reviving it moving forward.

In a post-COVID-19 world, Iarocci would like to see the company continue to produce more uniforms for frontline workers, due to the positive feedback the company has received.

“This has been a huge growth area for us,” Iarocci concluded. “What we do with schools is we outfit large communities and we do it in a partnership model – which is exactly what these essential workforces need.”


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