The elite sailmaker is changing direction to produce much-needed medical garments

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Tokyo – When Junichiro Shiraishi heard that Corona virus The pandemic left doctors and nurses desperately without medical garb. It only took a few days to find a solution. Shiraishi is the primary advisor to North Sails Japan, designing and producing sails for some of the fastest competitive ships in the world.

At all of the Summer Olympics since the Atlanta Games in 1996, the Yokohama-based team provided gold medalists with sails. Worldwide, 80% of the sails used in the 470 class two-person dinghy at Olympic level have come from the North Sails factory line.

Workers at the North Sails Japan factory manufacture medical clothing made of canvas at their Yokohama factory.

Handout / North Sails Japan


Shiraishi is a champion sailor herself, but medical device manufacturing was an unknown body of water. After the Olympic Games and every major regatta, the Yokohama assembly line remained high and dry. But Shiraishi saw a way to keep his 30 workers busy while joining the fight against COVID-19.

North Sails Japan is only the latest in a huge global migration of companies committed to the war against the corona virus. Healthcare workers around the world are at risk from a lack of masks, face shields, and more Personal protective equipment (PPE)and a variety of industries – from dress for the automotive and electronics industry and even for chocolate manufacturers – have strengthened and converted their factories and supply chains in a worldwide “linchpin for PSA”.

North Sails Japan’s coated polyester sail is waterproof and designed to block airflow. It seemed ideal to protect frontline medical personnel from infectious diseases. The high-performance sail for the elite competition was developed to increase the speed of the boats as quickly as possible without adding unnecessary weight. It’s super thin and light. Shiraishi said a meter of fabric weighed less than an ounce. The fabric of a spinnaker sail can make up seven medical gowns.

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A model shows one of the North Sails Japan medical clothing made of canvas in the company’s Yokohama factory.

Handout / North Sails Japan


Canvas dresses are not without drawbacks; They can be uncomfortably steamy in warm weather and are not flame retardant. “But traditional Hazmat suits are also hot to wear,” he told CBS News. “There is a compromise between safety and comfort.”

Japanese Ministry of Health guidelines recommend disposing of PPE after each use. But one of Shiraishi’s customers, a doctor and sailor, gave the prototype a thumbs up, and this week North Sails took orders.

At 7,000 yen each (around $ 65), the sailing clothes are many times more expensive than many disposable versions – but they can be washed and reused.

With a full clip, the Yokohama factory can only make about 100 dresses a day, a drop in the ocean, Shiraishi admits, but one way to do it.

“To be able to sail again so that the Olympic Games can take place next year, the virus must be contained,” he told the Asahi newspaper. “If we can contribute, we want to do our best.”