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New apparel innovation centre to design, test and manufacture protective clothing

CALGARY - You won't see this fashion on the catwalks of London or Paris — it's more likely destined for the energy, mining and manufacturing sectors of northern Alberta.

A new research, development and manufacturing centre in Calgary is being set up to try to make the workplace safer.

Olds College is joining Alberta Garment Manufacturing to establish what is believed to be Western Canada's first apparel research and development facility.

When it opens in 2015, the Calgary-based facility will test, design and manufacture protective clothing for the energy and construction industries, as well as for the Canadian Forces.

"It's looking at how we can make our workplace more safe and certainly when we're looking at labour challenges for the energy industry this is going to have a direct impact on that," said Michelle Rempel, the federal minister of Western Economic Diversification.

"So the development of flame retardant clothes, especially clothing for steam exposure ... hot liquid exposure. A compelling part of this project for me, is that even though they're developing innovative technologies it's also going to help the corporate, social responsibility of some of the energy sector."

The federal government has announced it will give the facility just under $3 million to purchase equipment.

Adrian Bussoli, president of Alberta Garment Manufacturing, says the centre will design its own product lines and test designs from other companies.

He says an example would be tests on cold-weather gear developed by the Canadian military.

"People in Vancouver, people in the military, people in Winnipeg, people in all of Canada can test their product. Canada is known as a cold country. It doesn't have many facilities that can test their cold ratings of products. Now it will have," said Bussoli.

He said the oil and gas sector has the most potential right now especially in steam assisted gravity drainage operations in Fort McMurray. The technique is an enhanced oil recovery technology for producing heavy crude oil and bitumen.

"They have need for testing product and developing standards for steam because steam processing is a dangerous occupation. Right now there is no clothing that protects the worker from steam accidents," Bussoli said.

The new facility will complement the Fashion Marketing and Apparel Technology programs offered by Olds College and will be connected to the Alberta Garment Manufacturing facility in northeast Calgary.

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The Canadian Press

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