After the COVID-19 pandemic put a local travel wear company into a sales slump, the founders stitched together a different product – protective masks.
Alex McAulay and Joel Primus, two University of Fraser Valley alumni, founded the travel-wear company Kosan in 2017. But within the first two weeks of March, their sales had dropped 90 per cent, causing them to lay off all four of their full-time staff.
“Up until about the last week of February our business was going on as usual and growing quickly month over month,” says McAulay. “Local manufacturers have been massively affected by the economic downturn.”
The two entrepreneurs decided to pivot to making masks for the consumer market on a hunch that the product will become a hot item, even after the pandemic ends. They also saw an immediate local need for personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We wanted to be part of that solution. Not only would this help keep Kosan alive, but it could help keep people protected, so we converted our supply chain immediately and haven’t slept much since!” McAulay said.
While the masks Kosan is producing are not medical grade, they are reusable, washable, waterproof and have an anti-bacteria lining inside them.
They are estimated to be 70 per cent as effective as medical-grade masks,” McAulay said. “More importantly, providing these masks to consumers will keep medical masks in the hands of nurses, doctors, and those front-line works who truly need them most.”
After making their pivot to making masks and receiving a healthy government subsidy, Kosan is slowly trying to bring back their laid off staff.
Kosan is also attempting to import medical grade PPE for healthcare workers, in the process of starting to manufacture locally to make the Kosan “pandemic proof,” and actively looking for new partners.
McAulay was the winner of UFV’s Distinguished Young Alumni award in 2008 and was named one of UFV’s Top 40 alumni in 2014. He was also elected as a school trustee in his hometown of Chilliwack in 2002, when he was just 18-years old.