Helly Hansen

Advancing work-safe workwear for Canada's harshest conditions

Many jobs in this country require braving some of the fiercest elements that Mother Nature can conjure. The offshore oil industry does not slow down when there are high winds or storms at sea. Construction workers in Northern Alberta do not stop work when the temperature dips below minus-30 degree Celsius. Forest fires do not wait for ideal conditions. The first defense for workers from these harsh—and sometimes unsafe—conditions is their workwear. In short, Canadians require the most technologically advanced and innovative workwear available in order to keep industries going. Workwear must be designed by people intimately familiar with the conditions in which it will be used, and it simply must work.

Helly Hansen, the world leader in textiles and workwear, was formed in the late 19th century in Norway, on an understanding of the responsibility it holds for the people who use its gear. Founder Helly Hansen pioneered sealskin oilskin jackets and trousers made from coarse linen and soaked in linseed oil for his fellow fishermen. From this auspicious beginning grew a legacy of producing high-tech and innovative workwear, combining science and textiles for the safety of its users.

Helly Hansen Canada Ltd.

It is a distinction in Canadian business that Helly Hansen has been in operating since 1981, with Helly Hansen Canada Limited (HHCL) becoming a privately held licence in 1991. Based in Nova Scotia and with offices throughout the country, HHCL has the advantage of seeing and working within the very conditions for which its workwear is produced. And, with a 110,000 square foot facility in Dartmouth, N.S., HHCL manufactures most of its products in Canada, one of the few companies of its kind that does.

“It’s an honour and privilege to be part of [the Helly Hansen] reputation,” says Shawn Amirault, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing. “At the same time it means the standard is very high here from a design and production/manufacturing point of view. Because the bar is high, we really take a lot of pride in their work and it’s a real team effort that we continue to be successful.”

Performance always practical

Whether one is working in extreme hot or cold temperature, you want to know your equipment will work above all that. “It is the quality that goes into those products that sets us apart and defines us,” says Amirault. The economic downturn saw a brief lull in sales, which have since picked up. “As the recession recedes, people are going back to quality innovation and reliability, which is playing out well for people such as us,” he says.

Price point, while competitive, is considered second to performance. Although HHCL does sell directly to independent stores, most of the retail is done through industrial distributor channels connected to large government agencies or utility companies.

“Warm, dry, and safe at work”

The basis of the workwear is Helly Hansen’s three layer system. “If you think of the way you dress, we have base layer of body wear, then you have thermal layer, and then protective layer outer garment,” says Amirault.

“Our gear is meant to reduce difficult situations and give protection from elements and extreme conditions, the harshest conditions,” says Amirault. As such, Helly Hansen is involved in building products for standards set by these agencies in a variety of areas (Personal Floatation Devices (PFD), is one example).

HHCL’s work in protective layers can be divided into three primary categories. For instance, flotation ware such as PFD and life jackets is heavily regulated, and HHCL works with the Canadian Coast Guard to essentially design products that would be adhering to all standards, if not exceeding them. “St. John’s, is one of our fastest growing areas of growth for floatation workwear due to the nature of the offshore oil and gas industry. We work with oil companies and the coast guard to continually produce workwear that will most benefit the user.”

Helly Hansen has a long tradition of Safety-at-Sea, having launched “Kapok” life boats in 1932, at a time when survival and swimming skills were scarce amongst fishermen. 1972 saw the invention of PVC foam with closed cells, material that is inherently buoyant, and thus less susceptible to loss of buoyancy from puncturing. Today the Safety-at-Sea collection continues the company’s tradition, offering innovative products that have saved lives at sea.

The company also works closely with the CSA in developing visibility standards and striping standards for its products, helping to prevent more injuries by increasing visibility.

Third key area for HHCL is working with flame retardant standards that have to do with flash fire protection. Regulation is increasing in this area and HHCL is at the forefront of new technology, working closely with regulatory bodies to pioneer new products. In 2011, HHCL will continue to focus on the domestic market, expanding product lines in these areas, ensuring that Canadian workers can do their work safely.