After stepping up to address pandemic demand for PPE garments, Lac-Mac president Shelley Lamb-White looks to the future of specialized healthcare garments
Photo: Lac-Mac president, Shelley Lamb-White
IT’S PROBABLY FAIR to say that at no point did Shelley Lamb-White expect her life’s work to revolve around the design and manufacture of reusable PPE garments.
But she does have the satisfaction of knowing the products her company makes are helping to improve human health, and in some cases save human lives.
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Lamb-White is the president of Lac-Mac. Located at 847 Highbury Avenue North, Lac-Mac is North America’s leading manufacturer of reusable technical textile products for applications in healthcare, industrial chemical protection and the utility sectors.
What started as co-op placement in 1981 led to a full-time job, and 40 years later, Lamb-White is the first female president in the company’s 100-year history. She owns patents in Canada and the U.S. for an award-winning surgical gown, and over the course of her career has worked with leading raw material manufacturers to develop technical-barrier textiles for PPE products.
Last year, Lamb-White helped increase Canada’s production capacity for PPE garments during the pandemic, and she is now focusing on the development of new products that will be needed as the world adjusts to the realities of post-pandemic life.
With the arrival of Covid-19 last year, Lamb-White led Lac-Mac to double its manufacturing capacity for healthcare PPE for frontline workers. “Even having all 70 employees in our factory work on those products,” she says, “we could not keep up with the demand.”
To overcome this challenge, Lamb-White collaborated with Canadian Emergency Medical Manufacturers (CEMM) to identify 25 textile manufacturers in the fashion and furniture sector that could retool to produce reusable isolation gowns. Lac-Mac provided patterns, raw material specifications and production process assistance, ensuring there would be more companies producing reusable isolation gowns domestically.
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That not only helped to protect Canadians working during the pandemic, but also helped small companies that were struggling to keep their doors open.
There are some countries where surgeons still wear polycotton gowns in the operating room, and Lamb-White believes that the dangers posed by Covid-19 and its many variants will drive demand for garments made of more protective materials — a shift that will help to expand Lac-Mac’s global client base.
“All of our products are reusable at least 75 times, and the materials we use provide an effective barrier to blood and fluid-borne pathogens,” explains Lamb-White. “They are some of the most expensive, but also safest, products in the market. After 75 uses they can be worn for downgraded purposes in healthcare environments.”
Developing any new product is a complicated procedure, but as Lamb-White points out, when it comes to products used in healthcare applications, the layers of complexity can quickly mount.
“It’s not just the products, but also the way they are used that needs to be managed,” she explains. “Because of the pandemic, there is also a new awareness of the need for a higher level of protection for many frontline healthcare workers. We are also designing new reusable garments with a focus on those who are working with the general public — for example, homecare providers — where there is also a desire for sustainable products like ours.” Kym Wolfe