Finding The Silver-Lining During COVID-19 Pandemic
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Canada, Berna Demiryol’s biggest concern was the wellbeing of her two teenage kids. “At first we were in a state of denial and could not comprehend that our lives would be put on hold like this. Our family was a busy family. Both of my kids were in competitive sports. Our weekdays were busy with practices and weekends on tournaments. Then suddenly everything stopped,” Demiryol says.
Soon after, face masks were mandated in places like malls and grocery stores, and now at schools – any indoor environment where social distancing is unavoidable. This posed a concern for Demiryol. Her son suffers from an intolerance to certain fabrics, chemicals or dyes and keeping a mask on for long periods of time causes him extreme discomfort.
That led to a lightbulb moment.
“My son has been extremely sensitive to certain fabrics and smells since his infancy. I was worried that he would not be able to wear a mask even for a short time if there were dyes or smells that bothered him. That was something I wanted to address” she says.
Demiryol launched her business Proteq, in part due to her background as an industrial engineer – she finds solutions to challenging problems. Proteq specializes in creating cloth face masks for those with sensitivities, including children and teens. The masks received the infant-grade certification from OEKO-TEX – the highest assurance that the fabrics are free from harmful chemicals.
Demiryol adds that in addition to being certified as infant-grade, another factor for her brand to stand out is the ionized silver yarn, which makes the masks antimicrobial. She says the yarn in the fabric is intertwined with the silver ions, attracting and subsequently neutralizing microbes. “It is a much better technology than simply coating the fabric with silver ions,” she adds.
Originally from Turkey, Demiryol notes that the country is known for its state-of-the-art textile industry. It’s why she did not look for another place to manufacture the masks. “Turkey is a textile hub — it’s known for its cutting edge technology and innovation in textiles,” she says. The manufacturer she collaborates with runs a research and testing facility that actively searches for antimicrobial and clean technologies, Demiryol says.
“The inspiration for this project was my son and I am sure there are so many other families with similar concerns; or those looking for chemical-free, antimicrobial products for their kids. As our kids are going back to school, we want solid protection for them, without exposing them to harmful substances, which might be present in the dyes. After all, we want them to wear these masks for six hours a day. Therefore, these masks need to be chemical-free, antimicrobial, breathable, and lightweight,” she says.
“My two kids have been using their Proteq masks since schools started and they have been giving me positive feedback. They even say, ‘I forget I am wearing a mask’ because it’s so light and breathable” she says.
Demiryol adds that it is great to see parents keep coming back to buy a few more masks after trying the product out. Currently, Proteq offers masks for all ages. “It’s not a one-size-fits all. It comes in four sizes for both adults and children.”
Demiryol launched Proteq after hearing about the ShopHERE Powered By Google program, which is a government-funded initiative that helps Canadian business owners develop an online presence. She says the program has been invaluable for her. “If I did this on my own, it would have taken much longer and it would have taken time away from other business activities such as manufacturing and logistics,” Demiryol says.
“I didn’t feel alone in this journey. I felt the program had my back and they are helping me succeed.”
She has another small business where she works with Canadian author, Lorna Nicholson, and runs creative writing workshops for youth. With Nicholson, Demiryol would like to run a COVID-19 Short Story Contest to encourage youth to write about their experiences and leave a little bit of history behind for future generations. For more on the free ShopHERE Powered By Google program, click here. For more on Proteq, click here.
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.
A $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19 in Southern Ontario.