Pauline Scouler says she was enormously relieved when Point Edward-based Creative Education Inc. was deemed an essential service and she was called back to work.
“I’m not one to sit around,” said Scouler, 80, the longest-employed seamstress at the company’s production plant.
For more than two decades Scouler has stood on her feet for 10 hours a day sewing children’s costumes, which were sold internationally.
For a three-week period starting March 24 the pandemic forced Creative Education to shut down.
But since April 14, Scouler and her co-workers have been back on the job sewing COVID-19 masks for children.
Prior to the pandemic, Creative Education filled orders for its award-winning costume brand, The Great Pretenders, with distribution around the world.
Owner Joyce Keelan said she went home in a panic the day the Ontario government closed all non-essential services. She lost sleep wondering what the future held for Creative Education and its 43 employees.
Days later, her national sales manager noted masks were in high demand worldwide and no one was making them for children. The good news: Creative Education had the skillset and equipment for mask production, which is an essential service.
Keelan immediately designed a mask for children over three years of age to help them avoid face-touching and limit exposure with others.
Nearly all the company’s local employees were recalled. Their first order was for 13,000 Great Pretenders Super Duper Safety Masks for Kids.
Fifty thousand masks were produced in Point Edward the first five weeks and more orders poured in. So five new seamstresses were hired, for a total of 12, said production manager Julie Donald.
“We are making 1,800 to 2,000 kids’ masks a day. That’s a lot of orders,” said Donald. An experienced sewer like Scouler can finish about 20 masks per hour.
When Scouler arrived for work on June 4 on her 80th birthday there was a surprise cake and 80 (or so) pink flamingos on the front lawn of Creative Education.
“I love my job and I sure don’t feel 80,” she said. “Working on my feet doesn’t bother me.
“I have no plans to retire,” added Scouler, who worked 25 years sewing at Tender Tootsies in Watford before joining the company.
“I will continue working for as long as I feel good.”
Last week, Creative Education began producing two-ply cotton masks for adults, which feature a nose wire and pocket where a paper filter is inserted.
And more seamstresses are in training to begin production of a new line of surgical gowns.
Keelan said she misses the costume business, but couldn’t be happier about the company’s ability to adapt in a crisis like COVID-19.
“It’s a big departure for us but we’re reinventing ourselves,” she said. The contract for surgical gowns is for five years and extends well beyond the duration of the pandemic, Keelan noted.