By GLENN GARNETT
They say necessity is the mother of invention. So six years ago when a Sudbury mother was aghast at her son’s ill-reaction to bug bites and was confronted with his desire to brave the wilds of Algonquin Park on short notice, she decided to put her talents as a seamstress to work to develop an effective means of keeping the bugs at bay.
The result: Squito Wear, and another Canadian small business success story.
outfit. A camouflage version is available
We met Dee and Ken Sinclair at the CottageFest Show in Pickering last February, and chatted with them about the family run business they operate out of their home in Sudbury, Ont. where they’ve resided for a decade after moving from Mississauga ("where there are no bugs!" Dee notes).
"On an earlier trip out west, we discovered my son David had bad skin and breathing reactions to insect bites from mosquitoes and blackflies," Dee says. "He was reluctant to use repellents and insecticides for fear of further skin reactions."
Rooting through her collection of fabrics, Dee designed, cut and sewed up three garments to protect her family against bugs for a fishing trip in Algonquin on the Canada Day weekend in 1994.
"I stayed up all that night and made the first version out of white material and bridal veils and they looked like the moonwalkers," Dee recalls. "And it worked - except they said I had to do something about the veil material which I used for netting - if you put your foot through it, the bugs could get in."
It was then that the entrepreneurial Sinclairs embarked on some homemade market research.
"At that time my oldest son was off work so we started designing an upgraded outfit," Dee says. "We went to the Sudbury farmers market and a friend and I wore our jackets three weekends in a row in different styles people to check out. We surveyed 300 people, and the biggest complaint was that they were too hot because of the type of fabric we were using.
"The second thing was that they couldn’t see very well because their peripheral vision was blocked with the hoods and the mesh wasn’t that good. So when David and I started to go into the factory business of it, we were able to locate the "no see’um" mesh , very fine with a zigzag pattern."
Tiny blackflies can’t get through the mesh - mosquitoes can sting through (the buggers can even get you through heavy denim), but if it’s loose as its intended to be, it’s still an effective defence.
"David insisted the mesh be black, and he was right - it acts like sunglasses, cutting down on glare., no distortion," Dee says. "The hood also fits comfortably over a ball cap or wide brimmed hat, and over glasses, without getting in the way."
The resulting creation is a fashionable alternative to chemical insect repellents. It’s lightweight and durable, yet cool to wear in the hot months of bug season. Constructed of 80% mesh polyester called "no see-um" and 20% cotton/polyester material, it’s completely machine washable with an estimated life span, depending to usage, of about four years. It fits into its own pocket and with a sturdy belt clip makes storage and travel convenient.
People who suffer claustrophobia can feel somewhat comfortable because it’s not up against their face and because it has a fine black mesh, it’s like looking through a window. And heat can easily escape because the hood is loose around your head.
" It was really through family need and talking to these 300 people that we came about the design," Dee says. "I also talked to loggers - they needed something that didn’t catch. This doesn’t catch, they’ve used it with chainsaws, it’s as fine as a fabric.
The garments worked so well that the Sinclair family marketed and produced enough jackets to commence distribution of Squito Wear. Although the product isn’t yet sold in stores, their display at outdoors shows and markets, and word of mouth has led to steady sales.
The Sinclairs’ handiwork has braved the mosquitoes’ heart of darkness - the crew of a National Geographic documentary wore Squito Wear for five months on a rafting trip down the Yukon River at the height of blackfly season and reported no casualties. Ken Sinclair wore it on an expedition to Tanzania in Africa where major league flying insects hang out and they’ve had favourable reports from happy customers in Europe and Australia.
The Sinclairs also sell camouflage-design Squito wear designed for bear and bow hunters. Dee says turkey hunters from the U.S. are also keen on them. They’ve begun monogramming the suits - handy if you’re trying to sort the family’s mosquito protection.
Prices range from $45.95 for children’s sized teal-coloured jackets (pants $22.95) to sixty bucks and up for adult jackets.
Squito Wear recently fulfilled a specialty order, in corporate red and white colours, for Petro-Canada staff on Hwy 69 in Muskoka. "Let me tell you, pumping gas around 8 o’clock at night in the summer, you could get eaten alive!" Dee notes. But not in their duds.
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