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INNOVATION An Eco-Friendly Medical Mask: A Global First From Frëtt Solutions

photo article RCGT

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A Gaspésie SME has developed a medical mask that can be washed a hundred times and retain its fine particle filtration capacity—an innovation that will open the doors to the global market.

Our team is very pleased to be supporting this innovative company during its development phases. We spoke with Frëtt Design and Frëtt Solutions founder, Michelle Secours, to shed some light on her success and her organization’s challenges.

Frëtt Solutions is the eco-efficient technical textile R&D division of Frëtt Design, a company that designs and manufactures ethical and eco-responsible clothing in Caplan, Gaspésie. The company recently received Health Canada medical device license approval for its reusable masks. This is a big step forward as the healthcare system is one of the largest users of disposable masks.

“Single-use masks are a real danger to the environment. They release millions of plastic microfibres that are not biodegradable. With the quantity of masks that are used and thrown away every day, we had to find a solution to avoid an ecological disaster,” says Michelle Secours.

From ethical clothing to an eco-responsible medical mask

Sensitive to the impact of textile production on the environment, Michelle Secours continues with Frëtt Solutions the eco-responsible mission of Frëtt Design, the company she founded in 1997. For 25 years, the SME has been using mostly natural and ecological materials such as hemp, merino wool or organic cottons in the manufacturing of its clothing for women, men and children.

The company responded to the health emergency at the beginning of the pandemic by starting to manufacture washable barrier masks for the general public. At the same time, a small core of employees dedicated themselves to the development of medical grade masks that could be reused by washing and disinfecting to meet a growing demand from the healthcare community.

“Each of our masks replaces 200 disposable masks. We have succeeded in achieving results that no one else has been able to match, both in performance and sustainability,” says the entrepreneur proudly.

Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton - image

Patented reusable medical mask

The learning curve was steep for her and her team. “We had to learn everything about the particle filtration capabilities of fabrics. We tested more than 130 combinations of multi-layered materials, so we knew what worked and what didn’t. Our goal was to create a washable mask that would meet the criteria of international standards for personal protective equipment in terms of breathability, efficiency and comfort.”

Her team worked for more than a year to develop the etrëma reusable multilayer surgical mask, which can be washed up to 100 times before being recycled.

The etrëma mask uses a textile filtering technology, called ëncore®, which is now patented in more than 60 countries. It meets the highest criteria of protection and product safety according to international standards for medical devices. Its development was the result of a collaboration between Frëtt Solutions and several experts from international research centres, laboratories and health institutions.

Conquering new markets

The company has met some of the challenges with panache and is continuing to build on its momentum.

License and certifications

Now that it has received Health Canada approval with the Medical Device Establishment License, as well as European certifications, Frëtt Solutions is ready to produce its etrëma masks on a large scale and begin marketing in clinical settings.

“However, it has taken a long time to get approval from the CNESST and Health Canada. In the latter case, the response came at the end of 2022, which now opens the doors to the healthcare sector,” specifies Michelle Secours.

Frett Solutions | Innovation | RCGT

New distribution channels

To do this, the company has to open up distribution channels that differ significantly from those it uses for its fashion products. In addition to its workshop-boutique in Caplan, the company sells its clothing online, in its Montréal boutique and at various events.

Its masks and other medical products in development are intended for the institutional sector, such as hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

“We also target professionals, such as dentists, medical clinics and anything related to close care, such as aesthetics,” says Michelle Secours.

Mask reprocessing procedure

In order to expand the use of this reusable mask, how it is used in healthcare settings must be reviewed, such as adopting a mask reprocessing procedure, which takes some time to implement.

Some hospitals are currently conducting pilot projects in Québec and elsewhere in Canada. Private clinics are also testing the mask.

While waiting to deploy across the entire health network, the company is working on other development projects based on its patented technology, including N95 masks and washable and reusable personal protective equipment (PPE).

Reinventing the business

Development of this innovation marks a new turning point for Frëtt Design. This is not the first time that the SME has innovated. In its early days, it built a solid reputation with industrial knitting techniques and upcycling principles that reused raw materials and enhanced their value.

“We sold our designs in over 100 stores worldwide, including major retailers like Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York,” says Michelle Secours.

Then, as textile manufacturing shifted to Asian countries, it became increasingly difficult for Frëtt Design to continue producing locally. It was at this point that she reviewed her company’s mission.

The creation of the Frëtt Solutions division offers her organization new inspiring opportunities.

“We are proof that we can innovate even if we are not in a large urban center and do not have large R&D resources. Most importantly, we continue to do our part for the health of the environment.”

-Sylvie Lemieux, editor

(source: web site firm Raymond, Chabot, Grant, Thornton)

Thank you warmly to the entire RCGT team for this beautiful article and this visibility.

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