Furry mascot costumes.
Islet transplants for diabetes treatment.
Yellow cloth with a silver reflective stripe down the middle.
What do these items have in common?
All were invented in Edmonton.
“We were pioneers,” says Grant Davey, president of Davey Textile Solutions (DTS), the manufacturer of the familiar high-visibility trim that you find on all types of workwear, including flame-resistant (FR) garments worn in the utilities, mining, and oil and gas sectors.
“You now see it in China, Mexico, Brazil. People are surprised when I tell them ‘it all started here.’ ”
The inspiration for the invention of the trim came from a rather lacklustre but vital source — the need for a trim that could stand up to the rigors of industrial washing without fading or loss of retroreflective performance.
In the 1990s, 3M was producing a retroreflective trim for use on firefighters’ jackets. At the same time, new safety standards in the oil and gas industry encouraged garment manufacturers to try the 3M product.
“But it was designed for a different market,” says Davey.
Garments worn in the oil and gas sector were typically washed by industrial launderers. The harsh washing conditions would damage the retroreflective trim, resulting in glass beads being sheared off the surface. The silver trim gets its retroreflective quality from tiny glass beads on the surface.
The sales representative from 3M could see the need for a different trim, but Alberta’s oil and gas business market was just a small blip for a company of that size. A solution had to be found locally.
At this time Alsco Canada, an industrial launderer and uniform rental company, was buying FR fabric from DTS and helped Davey get its first distribution contract with 3M. Alsco turned to DTS in 2000 for help on the reflective trim issue.
“We were looking for reflective tape that would stand up to the high temperatures and more aggressive chemicals used in industrial washing. We’re dealing with a lot of hydrocarbons that are difficult to get out,” says Don Rankine, direct sales manager in Edmonton for Alsco. “The technical side is what Davey is really good at.”
Dan King, vice-president of production, research and development at Davey, met with Rankine and another industrial launderer in the market to see just what was needed.
“I went back with ‘how do I re-engineer this?’ ”
King partnered with a Quebec company to create a product that met the harsh laundry requirements.
It took two years of experimenting before a suitable yellow-silver-yellow trim was developed for manufacturing.
Alsco performed industrial wash testing for DTS during this development stage. “Davey developed that technology ahead of others,” says Rankine.
When the two companies started working together, the protective workwear market was just 10 percent of Alsco’s operations. The market for protective workwear has now grown to 90 percent as more industries adopt improved safety standards for their uniforms.
“In Alberta, the market is huge,” says Rankine.
He emphasizes the key to success in developing the trim was due to the relationship DTS and Alsco have, as well as “Davey’s focus on trying to solve our problem. They are much more responsive than some other companies.”
Rankine buys thousands of metres of the two-inch, high-visibility, yellow reflective tape each year from DTS for application onto the protective workwear Alsco produces.
The trim — and silver stripe — lasts at least 50 industrial washes. That equates to the 18 months of a rental program or the lifetime for protective workwear.
DTS has worked over the years to continually improve the trim, eventually moving production to its manufacturing facility in Edmonton. They now offer trims in a variety of widths, colours (orange is increasingly popular) and textiles.
Just like Earls Kitchen and Bar, Booster Juice and Boston Pizza that were founded in Edmonton and expanded nationally and internationally, Davey Textile Solutions’ reflective yellow tape is a success story Edmonton can claim as its own.
Barb Wilkinson is a freelance writer and editor based in Edmonton