What’s behind the mask? Startup produces innovative face coverings to keep Metrolinx staff safe and the environment clean

There now seems like a million non-medical masks out there – sold at gas stations and even one produced by an Israeli jeweler worth more than $1.5 million. But the story behind an Ontario manufacturer who is helping keep transit staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, is particularly innovative and inspiring.

A first-generation immigrant startup company based in Waterloo has Metrolinx fully covered — boasting the world’s first reusable and waterproof non-medical mask to help in its fight against the pandemic.

But it’s their own backstory that’s gaining as much attention as the innovative waterproof fabric non-medical mask for Metrolinx staff to use throughout their shifts for the transit agency – protection that is comfortable, breathable and washable.

Metrolinx teamed up with ’Sweat Free Apparel’ to be the first in line to place an order for 10,000 reusable, waterproof face coverings which are due to arrive this week.

Image shows masks in platic coverings.

A look at the Sweat Free Apparel non-medical masks Metrolinx has ordered.

Chanakya Ramdev, the founder of Sweat Free Apparel, is thrilled Metrolinx was the first to order from his new, first-generation immigrant company.

Face coverings are an important part of the Metrolinx 40-point strategy to protect both staff and customers throughout the pandemic and a good supply will be needed to protect our staff on the frontlines for the foreseeable future.

After immigrating to Canada from India, Ramdev arrived in the Kitchener-Waterloo area to begin studies in management engineering at the University of Waterloo. During an internship in Hong Kong, he created a solution for sweat stains on clothes. He invented a new fabric technology that is sweat-proof and suit-wearing business people loved it.

When the world entered the COVID – 19 crisis, Ramdev decided to adapt this fabric to use in a face covering — an especially good idea given how hot this summer has been.

“Early days into the pandemic there was as a shortage of masks and I wanted to combine this critical need with the new technology to provide a non-medical face covering that not only worked but was super comfortable,” Ramdev told Metrolinx News.

“I wanted the fabric to be very comfortable on the inside so it feels as soft as a baby diaper on your face especially because people are wearing them for long periods of time.”

Officials have learned a lot over the past six months, especially about the transmission of the Coronavirus and the important part non-medical masks or face coverings play in limiting the spread.

The benefit of being reusable is that Metrolinx staff can avoid adding to the millions of disposable masks being thrown away every month (often finding their way into our rivers and streams or strewn carelessly around neighbourhoods) as we fight the pandemic.

Image shows a tossed away face mask.

Along with plastic water bottles and coffee cups, throw-away face masks are littering the environment.

“I wanted a more sustainable solution. There is already evidence that there are more disposable masks in our oceans than jellyfish,” Ramdev said. “We’ve a long way to go before we see the end of this crisis and must ensure we don’t suffocate the world’s ocean supply.”

The benefit of being waterproof is that no droplet enters or leaves the mask.

“If someone is sneezing or coughing the waterproof mask can capture the droplets and prevent droplets from passing through the mask,” Ramdev explained.

Make sure you inform yourself about the correct usage and disposal of masks and face coverings by reviewing material issued by Public Health Ontario.

For more information about Sweat Free Apparel, visit their website by clicking here.

And no matter where you get your face covering from – even if not as sophisticated as those made by Ramdev’s team after your Aunt Sally crafted family versions out of recycled gym shorts – remember to always wear one on GO Transit.

Story by Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx senior manager, Media.