Sewing collective in Montreal pivots from high fashion to face mask production

In one of Montreal’s hardest-hit areas, a team is arming themselves with needle and thread to help protect their neighbours during the pandemic.

Coop Couturières Pop, a sewing collective in the heart of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, has started churning out cloth face masks, providing hope and new jobs for people who are out of work due to COVID-19.

“The goal is to produce 60,000 per week,” co-founder Camille Goyette-Gingras told CTV News. “Right now we're doing 40,000 per week, so we're getting there.”

This sewing collective was stitching trendy fashions for local designers before the pandemic started.

Goyette-Gingras said that making high-fashion nightgowns during a pandemic was “not worth anything.”

“This is worth something,” she added of the masks her teams are working on.

The collective started out as a team of four, but that has quickly grown to 300 seamsters and seamstresses from Montreal and beyond, joining the fight against the deadly virus.

Julie Sauriol, one new employee, normally makes costumes for theatre.

She told CTV News that being a seamstress doesn’t ordinarily feel like “a super important profession in society,” but that the work they’re doing now makes them “feel important.”

In what can be a competitive industry, there are no trade secrets now. Sewing has become a universal language to communicate care.

“Some people say anxiety is caused by not being able to change your environment,” Goyette-Gingras said. She feels that for those they hire, having the chance to make a change in their own life and possibly help others is “so good to the heart.”

The project isn't just keeping workers employed, it’s introducing the profession to new recruits.

Jeff Liu knew “nothing about sewing” when he signed up to help.

“This is my first time,” he said.

His wife taught him how to sew, and now, the international student from China has made around 500 masks.

“It's not about the money,” he said. “I just want to help … so everyone can get their life back.”

So far, more than 100,000 masks have been made -- and the seamsters and seamstresses are not slowing down. 

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