Interview | The Brian Crombie Hour

May 8, 2020

Mask suppliers say they have PPE available — and not at inflated prices

May 1, 2020

TORONTO —   Ten days ago, Irwin Toy made a dramatic and urgent shift. Instead of  just selling dolls and trucks, the Canadian company now sells  medical-grade masks and makes between 250,000 and 500,000 a day.

Medical masks sold by Canada-based Irwin Toys, which has switched to providing personal protective equipment amid the coronavirus pandemic. (source: Irwin Toys)

“We have sold masks to … hospitals in the U.S.A. and Caribbean —  over 400,000 masks in Ontario and a total of 1.5 million to date,” said  George Irwin, president of the company, in an interview from his home in  Collingwood, Ont.

His company was one of more than half a dozen that contacted CTV News, after our story Sunday night about long-term care homes in need of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) getting pitches from new suppliers with staggeringly high prices  –some products priced between 700 per cent and 5,000 per cent above  normal costs. Surgical masks normally 58 cents were being sold for $6,  and N95 masks priced as high as $17.52.

Irwin says his company offers surgical masks for 58 cents and N95 masks at US$2.90, but adds that prices change quickly.

“We are working 24/7 to keep prices in line,” said Irwin.

Across Canada, hospitals, medical clinics other health services are  clamouring for the tools that will protect health-care workers and save  lives. But everything is in short supply, and hospital and nursing home  stocks are dwindling.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has warned that his province is running low  on PPE, and other provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador are asking  for help with their dwindling supplies. One shipment of 500,000 masks is  making its way from the U.S and “will help for another week,” he said.

However, Irwin says he made calls to the Ontario government offering to supply more hospitals — but says never heard back.

Another Burlington, Ont.-based mask supplier,,  responded to our story on excessive pricing and said costs are going up  for a variety of reasons. Among them, it listed high demand and low  supply, higher raw material costs, and shipping by air to save time at a  higher cost. What’s more, the company’s inventory was drained early  January by a rush of purchases.

“Chinese individuals and companies in Canada were frantically buying up  all the N95 masks they could get their hands on,” said owner Robert  Bortoluzzi. “They were running around like worker bees buying and  shipping back to China, ironically where the masks are made. They  basically obliterated the supply, this along with regular supply chain  purchasing has left most large suppliers with no stock and no answer as  to when more are coming.”

Bortoluzzi says he has secured has supplies of N95 and KN95 masks, as  well as gowns and gloves, but says despite market upheaval he plans to  keep prices reasonable.

“We are selling at a fair price in order to help as many people as we  can,” said Bortoluzzi. His company reached out to his local MP and  applied to Health Canada, one of many hundreds of medical supply  vendors.

Another Canadian firm, Momentum Solutions, emailed CTV News after the long-term care story, offering personal protective equipment at a reasonable cost.

CEO Stephen Arbib says his firm is supplying only large orders for  between 20,000 and 20 million masks — sourcing some from China and  others from 3M plants in Hungary, Turkey and Mexico.

Governments usually have lists of pre-approved companies that have  applied for and passed contract conditions and safety regulations. Many  mask makers not on the list have applied to become suppliers during the  pandemic, with indications the federal government is willing to  fast-track approvals. But some report it’s taking weeks to hear back  from officials.

As for Irwin, hospitals are now contacting him directly for mask  supplies, which his son in China oversees for safety and quality.

“We’ve been delivering toys to kids for 90-some-odd years and one thing  we know is you want to sell and make sure that you deliver a toy that  doesn’t hurt anybody, and we’ve taken that same approach with masks,” he  said.

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Important for Canada: Collingwood entrepreneur looks to establish

May 12, 2020  New Article

News May 11, 2020  by Ian Adams  Collingwood Connection 

George Irwin and his wife Brenda with the masks now being produced by his company, Irwin Toys. Irwin is looking at setting up manufacturing in the Collingwood area. – George Irwin photo

When it comes to masks, the president of Irwin Toy isn’t playing around.

George Irwin, who calls Collingwood home, has found an almost overnight sideline for the 90-plus-year-old Canadian toy company, producing three-ply surgical masks.

While the masks are currently being made at a  factory in China that normally produces the company’s toys, Irwin sees a  future in bringing manufacturing to Collingwood.

“I think there is a very viable opportunity to manufacture here  in Collingwood, and really make Collingwood a pretty interesting place  for the (personal protective equipment) product,” he said.

Earlier this year, he received an email from a business colleague who  described how he had retooled one of his toy factories to make masks.  It was in the initial stages of the coronavirus pandemic, and the  colleague had landed a contract to supply the Hong Kong government.

Irwin recalled telling his wife, Brenda, “I think he just hit the jackpot.”

At the end of March, Irwin received an email from a supplier who  had capacity at one of his plants, and asked Irwin if he needed masks.

Irwin got on the phone with Collingwood General & Marine  Hospital president Norah Holder, who immediately gave him an order for  40,000.

She also provided contacts to other hospitals in the region — and a new business line was created.

“By the end of the day we had sold 440,000,” he said, adding by  mid-May, sales numbers should be in the order of six million, with  contracts across North America, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean.

“This has become a very viable business,” he said. “We’ve been in  business selling masks for a little more than a month, and I see us  continuing this business — as well as our toy business.

“I think this is going to be an integral part of our portfolio of products that we manufacture and sell in North America.”

Almost immediately, Irwin said he saw a supply  chain issue between the factories in China and where the masks were  headed, that the masks weren’t reaching their intended customers fast  enough.

That’s why he is now looking to set up manufacturing in the area — and expects to announce firm plans in the44 coming days.

“We’re not naive, we know when this is over that people will  continue to buy masks from outside of Canada, but we’re going to be  supplying masks from Canada so that we have an alternative source if  this ever happens again,” Irwin said. “That’s important for Canada.”

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