This month we’re interviewing Steve Wagner, from Salus Marine Wear. Salus Marine Wear is a Canadian PFD (Personal Floatation Device) manufacturer in Waterloo, Ontario. Underneath their solar-panel covered roof, Salus sews comfortable vests for recreation, paddling, sailing, and more.

Tell us about how Salus began.

Salus was a basement startup 18 years ago. One sewing machine. The thinking behind it was, we thought there was a void in the Canadian market for a high end approved PFD. A lot of the approved vests, the better ones, were coming in from the states. So that’s when we started with five styles of PFDs for children, sailing, and kayaking. Now we have 50 employees and are growing out of our 25,000 square foot space.

How has the company and market landscape changed since you founded Salus?

When we first came into the market Lotus Designs, Buoy O Boy, Helly Hansen, Trek, Extrasport were all big names. Those companies have all come and gone, so there is a lot of flux in the competitive landscape.

A recent change is the development of harmonized standards between the United States and Canada. Soon you will be able to get a vest approved and sell it both sides of the border. Is that an opportunity for us, or will it open the floodgates for American companies to sell in Canada? That remains to be seen.

You once told me that “salus” means “safety” in Latin. Obviously safety is an important component for any PFD manufacturer. What other core values do you hang your hat on?

Being made in Canada, comfort, and environmental stewardship are priorities for us.

We do our best to keep everything made in Canada, and right now everything except our suits is.

When people think of Salus they think of form, fit, and function – high quality, comfortable vests. The line is consumer driven, instead of manufacturing driven, so decisions on design and features are governed by what the user wants in their PFD.

When it comes to our environmental footprint, we have a good recycling program for our foam, and now we have solar energy on our facility.

Tell me about your foam recycling. What do you do with the scrap as you cut out the rounded foam that makes Salus vests so comfortable?

The white foam is easy, it can be taken to a recycling depot.

The beige foam, we have two uses for. There is a customer called Tube Pro that repurposes it for ski hill crash mats. We just give them the foam and they sandwich it in. We have also given it to some packaging companies. Right now we’re working on a new project – exploring making dog beds, by grinding up the material.

Of course cardboard and plastic get recycled as well. We aren’t without our waste, but it’s minimal.

What sparked the partnership with CED Co-op?

The honest answer? A poker game. I was playing cards with Jerry Enns (a founding member of CED Co-op). That’s how the introduction was made. I had already started a file thinking about installing solar on our roof, so we were both in the right place at the right time.

Sometimes that’s all it takes! Why were you looking at solar in the first place?

The return on investment was certainly attractive, but of course the green energy model really fits with what we’re doing here. Even though we aren’t directly using it, we are putting clean energy back into the grid.

It isn’t our expertise to figure out solar installation and navigate generation contracts, so it worked out well that you could take care of everything and offer a turnkey solution.

I love that it fits with who you are as a company as well. Your customers appreciate clean waterways and a healthy environment, so here you are recycling, upcycling, and investing in renewable energy to ensure our lakes and rivers stay pristine.

Some of our readers may not know that you also own Barbarian Sportswear here in town.

Prior to us coming into the picture Barbarian was around for 31 years. There was a little bit of owner’s fatigue, and they were ready to sell the company so we brought it back to life.

Originally they made on-field rugby shirts, but those shirts morphed into fashion and school spirit wear. Now you can find rugby style shirts from high fashion labels, and shirts crested in every college and university spirit wear collection.

There are some synergies, being in a textile industry at both Salus and Barbarian. We’re always going back and forth, trading sewers, technology, and expertise. This has made both companies stronger.

Just like Salus, Barbarian wear is all made in Canada, and actually all the material is North American made.

That’s amazing. It’s not something you think of when you see someone sporting their university colours – that every component of that shirt is North American, and it’s locally made.

Circling back to our roots, we still supply on-field rugby equipment, but now it’s performance fabrics that those athletes are demanding.

The Barbarian brand is actually better known in Japan than we are here. We’re all over big fashion magazines. People recognize the Barbarian name, and want the English label for the cachet that brings.

Is there anything else you want people to know about solar, or the environmental ethos of Salus or Barbarian?

Our experience has been positive. I can’t say I understand it all, but I’m very proud to have the system on our roof. Any time we have visitors I show them the inverters and point out the system. I like to show it off. If we can make a return in addition to that, it’s all positive.

Thank you to Steve Wager from Salus Marine Wear for sharing how the solar system built in partnership with CED Co-op is justone way their company is making an environmental impact, while producing highquality PFDs right here in Waterloo.

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