What Happened to Trebor?

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Receivership page 1Back in late 2020, local media was singing the praises of a new company called Trebor RX at 395 Raglan Street in Collingwood. Its entrepreneurial owner, George Irwin, promised great things for the new plant and its innovative products, including creating up to 100 new jobs.*

The idea sprouted in spring, 2020, when Irwin got the idea to start making masks in Collingwood, and when offered masks by a colleague, he got an order for 40,000 from the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital’s CEO. As an early story in the Connection noted:

Earlier this year, he received an email from a business colleague who described how he had retooled one of his toy factories to make masks.  It was in the initial stages of the coronavirus pandemic, and the colleague had landed a contract to supply the Hong Kong government.
Irwin recalled telling his wife, Brenda, “I think he just hit the jackpot.”
At the end of March, Irwin received an email from a supplier who had capacity at one of his plants, and asked Irwin if he needed masks.
Irwin got on the phone with Collingwood General & Marine  Hospital president Norah Holder, who immediately gave him an order for 40,000.

A few phone calls to regional hospitals later and Irwin said he had orders for 440,000 masks. He told the Connection that, “by mid-May, sales numbers should be in the order of six million, with contracts across North America, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean.”

But instead of simply acting as a broker, selling the production of others, Irwin decided to open his own manufacturing plant here. CTV News reported:

The entrepreneurs are outfitting a 25,000-square-foot factory and preparing to hire some 100 people locally to produce some 50,000 respirators per day, pending Health Canada approval. Once operational, the company will become one of Canada’a biggest mask-makers.

Barrie’s CTV outlet had this in October, 2020:

The company also plans to make three-ply surgical masks, and with that much product expected daily, it’s hiring. The manufacturer currently employs 16 workers and hopes to have between 80 to 100 by the New Year, which is good news for the economy and better news for the province.

The headline in the October Collingwood Connection story was, “Mask manufacturer expects to create close to 100 jobs in Collingwood.” But despite the media’s optimistic reporting, those jobs never materialized. Nor did the expected sales.

In CollingwoodToday the headline that same month was, “Health scare leads to new business for Collingwood couple.” And it looked like it had such promise. After all, in the pandemic we all needed masks, right? And it was local, too!

Both stories in local media repeated the promises of jobs, production, and innovation. The Connection piece noted:

A manufacturer has launched an innovative, reusable mask that will cut down on medical waste — with its North American production facilities centred in Collingwood.
Trebor Rx should start production in mid-November. Chief executive officer George Irwin estimated the company will employ between 80 and 100 people and manufacture about 725,000 masks a day.

And in CwoodToday it had:

These new masks we’re manufacturing, we’re just starting to sell those now but we have orders to ship all over Canada, the U.S. and Australia for starters… When we get into later in November we’ll be making 50,000 masks per day at our temporary plant on Raglan Street. When our full plant is finished in January 2021 – it’s in the middle of construction, but it’s on the same property as our temporary plant – that’s when we’ll get into full production of about 100,000 units per day… We are currently at 15 employees. We believe when we’re fully up and running in January, we’ll be closer to 80 or 100 jobs.

A company media release from October 2020 was headlined, “Trebor Rx Corp. to commence production of PRO+ Dual Respirator masks in Ontario, a break-through innovation in PPE technology.” It noted:

Production of PRO+ begins this month in Collingwood, Ontario, to fulfill the immediate demand for the product. Expansion to a larger facility is scheduled for a late 2020 opening, with a forecasted domestic production capacity of over half a million masks per week. Manufacturing in Collingwood ensures a consistent and reliable supply of masks to the North American market, regardless of supply chain disruption as global demand for PPE continues to grow with the “new normal” and additional waves of the novel coronavirus.
Leveraging a robust global supply chain network and expertise in stringent quality testing and compliance intrinsic to the toy industry, the leadership team behind Irwin Toy founded Trebor Rx to quickly procure desperately needed PPE.

Bayshore Broadcasting also had a piece on its website in October, 2020: “Collingwood Company Creates Recyclable Mask, and It Is Hiring.” That piece had this:

A Collingwood company has created the first recyclable face mask and is reportedly hiring almost 100 more employees before the end of the year.
Trebor RX says the Pro Plus is the only PPE mask to provide 300+ hours of usage at a fraction of the cost of options currently available.

And Cambria Design Build (later a creditor for $2.3 million) was proud to announce on its website:

Cambria Design Build Ltd. proudly is building a mask manufacturing facility located in Collingwood Ontario. Trebor Rx should start production in mid-November. Chief executive officer George Irwin estimated the company will employ between 80 and 100 people and manufacture about 725,000 masks a day.

In CwoodToday a subsequent story from March, 2021 was headlined, “A new surgical mask with Collingwood ties is set to hit the market.” It noted:

A surgical mask coated with a new material sourced from a mineral deposit in Northern Ontario has passed Health Canada testing requirements, and is expected to hit the market next month.

The Partnership

That story touted a partnership between ZEN Graphene Solutions, headquartered in Thunder Bay and Guelph, and Collingwood’s Trebor Rx Corp:

George Irwin, the CEO for Trebor, described the four-ply mask as new, game-changing technology and “the disrupter” needed to get ahead of the COVID-19 virus and mutations.

Trebor also committed to paying ZEN Graphene a royalty for “nitrile gloves sourced or produced by Trebor … Trebor agrees to use the coating on all gloves sold and will pay ZEN a royalty per glove coated, with a minimum first year guarantee of 100 million gloves.” In a media release about the partnership, Irwin commented:

“We are excited to bring another game changer to the PPE Industry. We believe Zen’s biocidal coating on gloves gives front line responders and health care associates in all medical and non-medical situations additional protection for both the patient and health care worker. This coating can be used on gloves in food processing and agriculture as well. Trebor and Zen have a unique relationship with the goal of making safer PPE. Trebor looks forward to suppling the biocidal gloves within the 1st half of 2021.”

George Irwin’s story appeared in Toronto life in March, 2021, in a piece headlined, “After surviving Covid, I knew I had to help others”: This long-time toymaker is producing 100,000 masks a week.” That piece noted:

“Thanks to our background in the toy industry, we were in a good position to set up shop for mask-making in Ontario. In October, we contracted a moulding factory in Woodbridge to produce the parts for the respirator body. Then the parts are sent to our factory in Collingwood and assembled there. We’re making 40,000 Pro+ masks a week. We also have a brand-new factory in Edmonton, where we’re making around 60,000 disposable three-ply masks a week.”

Even the Toronto Sun ran a story about Irwin and Trebor in March, 2021: “Ontario-developed graphene face mask passes Health Canada tests.” It said:

The all-Canadian four-ply masks, to be produced in Collingwood, Ont. by Trebor Rx Corp., use filters treated with a biocidal coating based on graphene — a revolutionary form of carbon that’s finding uses in a number of new and emerging technologies.
The graphene ‘ink’ coating is produced by Thunder Bay-based Zen Graphene Solutions — which according to lab testing is 99% effective in rendering aerobic bacteria and viruses inert, including SARS-2 Coronavirus…
Trebor plans on bringing the masks to market by April.

That was followed up in April, 2021, when CwoodToday’s headline noted it wasn’t all good news for the new mask technology: “Health Canada face mask recall impacts tech company with Collingwood production site.” The article added:

The federal department issued a notice on Good Friday urging people not to use face masks labelled as containing graphene particles after preliminary testing identified that inhaled graphene particles could cause early lung toxicity in animals. The potential risk to people not yet known…
The company said nothing in its news release about how this warning would impact their plans to ramp up production this spring, but defended the rigourness of its own third-party testing procedures and that of its manufacturing partner, Trebor.

Around that time, the company and its new mask was promoted on the website of Global Hospitality Inc.:

Trebor Rx’s PRO+TM Dual Respirator & 4-Ply ASTM Level 3 face masks made for healthcare, frontline and essential workers are made with durable, high quality, environmentally friendly, hypoallergenic, non-toxic, moisture proof, soft and comfortable materials with our new CAREGuard+TM with ZENGuardTM Technology.

(For more on ZENGuard and Zentek’s announcements to investors in 2020 and 2021, see here)

In July, 2021, another story ran, headlined in the Connection as, “Trebor Rx putting Collingwood at the centre of the PPE industry.” The story noted:

Irwin said that the business began manufacturing masks a few months later and opened a 5,800-square foot factory in Collingwood. The company has another factory in Edmonton.
Trebor Rx manufactures about half a million three-ply procedural masks a day, along with nearly 1,000 of its patented Pro+ Respirator masks. Irwin said that the masks have a dual two-way filter, are reusable, and cost-effective.

A similar story appeared in Simcoe.com headlined, “Trebor Rx putting Collingwood at the centre of the PPE industry.” It noted:

Trebor Rx manufactures about half a million three-ply procedural masks a day, along with nearly 1,000 of its patented Pro+ Respirator masks. Irwin said that the masks have a dual two-way filter, are reusable, and cost-effective.
He said that the support from the community has been very encouraging.
“The people, the councillors, and the town’s mayor have been exceedingly cooperative, making sure that we have the necessary approvals and wanting us to be successful,” said Irwin. “You’re seeing very innovative products being manufactured here in Collingwood and being sold literally across the world. That puts Collingwood in a very advantageous position of being a centre for new technology for the PPE industry.”

The Financial Post reported in August 2021, that “Health Canada Interim Order Authorization #324815 For Trebor RX Pro+ Dual Respirator Trebor RX is now selling to all healthcare institutions and facilities throughout Canada.” The piece was apparently reprinted from a media release generated by the company. A similar piece was reprinted in the FP on Dec. 23, 2021 that also noted:

TREBOR RX CORP. is a Canadian success story that began when the first wave of COVID hit our country in the winter of 2020. TREBOR President Brenda Elliott, CEO George Irwin and VP Bryan Gray — business partners — used their extensive experience in the toy manufacturing sector to pivot and very quickly address critical shortages of PPE facing Canadian healthcare workers. In 18 short months, TREBOR RX built a state-of-the art manufacturing facility in Collingwood, Ontario and has been highly active in the research and development of superior and innovative PPE solutions. TREBOR RX CORP. operates TREBOR RX WEST, an Alberta PPE manufacturing facility and is entering the international marketplace with Canadian-made innovations and products.

And a year ago, Trebor was advertising for employees on Online Career 360:

The Production Operator – Evening Shift workswith the Plant Manager to ensure the products are manufactured, sorted, and packaged according to standards, ready and available to meet the production needs and is responsible for assisting with the production plant manufacturing requirements. Hours of work: Monday to Friday: 3:00p.m. until 11:00 p.m.

And in November 2021, CwoodToday followed up with a story headlined, “Collingwood factory making millions of face masks per week.” That story included this, noting the recall was no longer in place:

Health Canada authorized the Zen Guard disposable face mask made by Trebor Rx for sale in Canada on Sept. 28…
A Collingwood factory has been producing 500,000 disposable face masks every day this month and it’s using new technology approved by Health Canada this year… The masks they’re making use a graphene treatment developed by ZenTek out of its Guelph research offices, which boasts higher filtration capability than other procedural masks, as well as bacteria/virus inhibiting properties.

Where Were The Jobs?

Despite hopes — or promises — of greater employment, the plant was still only employing “…15 people and Irwin said he’ll be starting a second shift in December.” And the story also noted the company was “producing 500,000 disposable face masks every day this month…” That piece was later repeated without attribution or authorship on the corporation’s website (which is still active).

A similar story in the Connection that month was headlined, “‘Getting orders from around the world’: Collingwood mask manufacturer aims to ‘innovate’ the PPE industry.” That story noted:

The company started producing masks out of its 30,000-square-foot facility on Raglan Street in September of last year… At full capacity, the company can produce 500,000 of the fabric masks and 50,000 of the plastic on a daily basis.
“We’re getting orders from all around the world,” he said.
George said they employ 15 people but hope to expand to about 50 by the end of the year.

The last news item about the partnership on ZEN Graphene’s website (later renamed ZENTek) is dated Sep. 27, 2021; in it, George Fenton, ZEN’s CEO, called the new mask they developed “a significant commercial success for both our organizations.” The trademark “ZENGuard™ disposable face mask” is owned not by Trebor but by Zentek, who showcased the technology at the 12th annual Global Summit on Regulatory Science in Singapore in October, 2022. There is no mention of Trebor in the media release about that presentation.

As late as Dec. 2021, Irwin’s company sent out a media release titled, “TREBOR RX CORP. CAREGuard+™ with ZENGuard™ technology has best in class, Viral Filtration Efficiency of 99.99%+” It included:

TREBOR RX CORP. is a Canadian success story that began when the first wave of COVID hit our country in the winter of 2020. TREBOR President Brenda Elliott, CEO George Irwin and VP Bryan Gray — business partners — used their extensive experience in the toy manufacturing sector to pivot and very quickly address critical shortages of PPE facing Canadian healthcare workers. In 18 short months, TREBOR RX built a state-of-the art manufacturing facility in Collingwood, Ontario and has been highly active in the research and development of superior and innovative PPE solutions. TREBOR RX CORP. operates TREBOR RX WEST, an Alberta PPE manufacturing facility and is entering the international marketplace with Canadian-made innovations and products.

It still seemed to be good news as late as February 2022, when the company sent out a media release titled, “Fact: Canada is a world leader in personal protection mask technology. An Open Letter to Canadians From Trebor Rx Corp.” This piece noted:

Among the businesses that heeded the call for help is our company TREBOR RX CORP. We set up shop in small town Collingwood Ontario, and, working with other local businesses, the municipality and the Government of Ontario, we have built a state-of the-art manufacturing facility.
Along the way we developed new and better PPE technologies. We have applied for and won hard-earned Health Canada authorization to manufacture and sell surgical and respirator masks that are treated with a patent pending compound that eliminates antimicrobials— including Covid-19. These masks and filters have been tested extensively and are proven to be 99.99% effective in filtering out and eliminating the viral, bacterial and fungi pathogens.

And in March 2022, the company’s Facebook page had a post promoting its new mask:

What makes Trebor Rx CAREGuard+ masks so special? Our unique 4-ply construction includes an antimicrobial layer, using ZENGuard Technology, that actively captures and blocks harmful viruses, Bacteria, Pathogens and Infectious Diseases – including COVID-19.

Investors Unconvinced

But market watchers were not so keen on the partner, ZEN Graphene (aka Zentek). Night Market Research reported in March, 2022:

…a former technological partner alleges ZEN stole the ink technology, filing a lawsuit alleging breach of contract. The lawsuit (undisclosed to investors) seeks to prevent ZEN from selling the ink, monetary damages, and disgorgement of profits.

It concluded: “Given its premium valuation, a weak end market swamped with cheap supply and the undisclosed IP conflict, we believe ZEN is uninvestable.”

One comment from an investor forum in October suggests Trebor did not have the regulatory approvals from the FDA necessary to sell its masks in the USA, and that Canadian public demand for masks was dwindling:

As for Mark’s sales of ZENGuard masks in Canada, FD emphasized that Mark’s sells also to the workforce, which includes medical, first responders, etc., and not just to the general public whom are mostly no longer interested in masks – at least for now. I believe he said the inventory still on hand from Trebor’s production meets the demand in that sales channel for now.

So what happened to Trebor? On Trebor’s corporate website, the last item is a promotional video also dated from November 2021. After that… silence. Until, that is, July, 2022.

Conned by Scammers

A recent story on Seeking Alpha’s website tells the tale. It is dismissive of the new mask technology, saying it was a flop with little sales, and notes that Trebor fell prey to African scammers:

Financial results have been grim: Zentek’s highly touted face mask opportunity fizzled out, producing sales of only $380k against $15m in losses from continuing operations in the last 4 quarters.
Sales were so poor, Zentek’s manufacturing and distribution partner was sent into receivership and was so desperate it fell prey to Ghanian scammers.

The article also called the ZENGuard patent, “economically insignificant because demand will remain trivial.” It adds;

In four quarters of ZenGUARD sales, Zentek recorded sales of only $380k against net losses from continuing operations of $15m.

But it also has this about Trebor:

Legal documents related to the receivership show Trebor was apparently targeted by Ghanian scammers who dangled $8m in purchase orders to extract a $1,250 “registration fee.”

You can read those legal documents here. It shows a fake purchase order for more than $6 million from a Ghanian company that proved to be just a bunch of scammers. The “order” was received by the company on July 13, 2022, a few weeks before the company went into receivership.

Was this the cause of the company’s downfall? Did Trebor over-extend itself in preparing to fulfill this fake order? Or was it already failing because of low sales and high operating costs, and this just tipped it over?

Night Market Research added a post in October, 2002 that noted:

Considering covid fears were receding and the glut of domestic and Chinese PPE supply, it wasn’t surprising that actual results were nowhere near this range.
In four quarters of ZenGUARD sales, Zentek recorded revenue of only $380k against net losses from continuing operations of $15m. As poor as is it, the revenue figure overstates run-rate demand since it includes initial inventory stocking. Same for revenue of $33k for the quarter ending in June since that number includes an initial order from Mark’s, a Canadian clothing retailer offering Zentek’s masks in 50 of its stores, a tiny deal which the company touted as “important exposure through a top Canadian retailer”.

July 29, 2022 is when Trebor filed for receivership. Court documents show RBC is a secured creditor for $4 million, Cambria Design Build for $2.3 million, and RIC Raglan (which appears to be the property managers of the plant) for an unknown amount (identified as $234,087 on page four).

On Aug. 5, 2022, ZENtek quietly announced

Effective, July 29, 2022, Trebor has entered into receivership, and in connection therewith, the Trebor Agreement has terminated. Based on the Ekomed Agreement, in addition to the Company being able to contract with other manufacturers and distributors pursuant to its MDEL [Medical Device Establishment License], the Company does not expect any material loss from the termination of the Trebor Agreement or Trebor’s receivership.

Fake mask orderThere are two pages of the bankruptcy filing detailling $1.387 million owed to businesses and individuals, including many local companies and former employees. The list of creditors also includes Ron Anderson CPA for $210,000, CMI Chriseele Management for $122,000, Christie Cummings for $19,673, Express Employment professionals for $56,127, Bresatech LLC of $55, 711, ARO Technologies for $63,200, Bennet Jones lawyer for $50,170 and a lot more. Seventy-four in total for $1,387,957.81, including what appears to be 16 former employees.

The PR company used for the media release in Oct. 2020, ChizComm Ltd., was not listed as a creditor.

George Irwin’s LinkedIn profile labels him a “toycoon” from Collingwood, and owner of Irwin Toys and Itoys Inc., but has no mention of Trebor. Nor does Irwin’s Facebook profile. The last tweet from the Trebor Twitter account (97 tweets total) is dated March 10 of this year. **

Trebor no longer appears in the list of suppliers on the Canadian Association of PPE Manufacturers (CAPPEM) website. When were they removed from the list and the organization?

Did Trebor receive any government money for its startup? What happened to any money it got from investors or governments? What will happen to the creditors, especially the local companies and individuals? Where are the owners now? Did they lose any money in the venture, or just their creditors and employees?

How did it go from promise to bust in such a short time? Why have the town’s economic development staff and council been silent about the closure?

None of this has been in the local media, although the documents for receivership were filed three months ago and local workers and businesses have been unpaid since. Nor, apparently have any of the principals or credits been interviewed by local media. Why not? After all, they were all so keen to sing the startup’s praises. Where’s the follow-up on its downfall?

Collingwood deserves better.

UPDATE: I received an email from a local investor who helped raise $1.3 million for Trebor, and was, to say the least, unhappy about the result.

~~~~~

* For Trebor, Dun & Bradstreet lists not Irwin, but as the “Key Principal: DAVID FILICE.” Filice is noted on the Fuller LLP website as

“… a Partner in Fuller Landau’s Corporate Restructuring and Insolvency group. I have more than 25 years of experience in public practice, with specific expertise across a range of industries including food and beverage, real estate, and distribution.
I have extensive experience in underperforming company turnaround and insolvency engagements for companies of all sizes. I advise on corporate reorganizations, receivership assignments, proposals, bankruptcy matters, liquidations, and business investigations.”

** According to a piece on the U of Calgary site, Irwin Toys is Canada’s oldest toy company. It was started in 1926, but faced legal and financial issues in the 1980s and ’90s.

It was sold in 2001 to a private investment group in Toronto for approximately $55 million. Eighteen months later, the new Irwin Toy owners declared bankruptcy and liquidated after 76 years of operations. The original factory was converted to loft condominiums.
In 2003, the Irwin Toy name, patents and some products were re-purchased by George and Peter Irwin and continued as Itoys Inc. That company appears to have changed to an Ontario numbered company which filed bankruptcy papers in late 2010.

The Irwin Toy website clarifies in a 2017 post by adding:

The Irwin family sold Irwin Toy in 2001 and Mr. Irwin became President and Chief Operating Officer of GC Toys, managing the day-to-day toy business including operations, product development, sales, marketing and orient manufacturing.
Determined to reignite the Irwin Toy legacy, Mr. Irwin and his brother Peter Irwin purchased the former Irwin Toy business from the bankruptcy trustee in 2003 after the former owners filed for bankruptcy in December 2002. The brothers renamed the operation IToys, for a new generation, dedicated to developing innovative concepts for the burgeoning tech-toy market as well as marketing pre-school activities, dolls, TV game show games, youth electronics, and action figures.

The toy company’s news page also has copies of articles about Irwin and Trebor. Original Irwin Toys are now collectibles.

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4 Comments

  1. Mark A Stewart

    Once again Ian we see local media are great at cheerleading and reprinting press releases. But zero talent is real journalism, which too often involves hours of slogging through corporate double speak to find a nugget. Truly an excellent piece of work Ian that the local MSM will ignore. Not only does Collingwood deserve. Media users deserve better

  2. https://www.simcoe.com/news-story/10753997–perfect-storm-ceo-of-collingwood-mask-maker-says-lack-of-government-orders-led-to-company-going-into-receivership/
    Nice to see at least one of the local media outlets reads my blog and can rush in to do a story after I have broken it… more than three months after the company has gone bankrupt. Who says investigative reporting is dead in local media? Well, okay, everyone…

    The article notes, “Irwin said the company hasn’t produced masks since March, but would like to continue to work to acquire a government order. ” I can find no local media story that indicates the plant had shut down last spring. Or any that suggests a followup this year on any of the earlier stories. Did I ask about the death of investigative reporting in local media?

    But the writer didn’t ask how or even if creditors, investors, and local workers will ever get repaid what they are owed. Or what, exactly, the former owners were doing to get that government order when they said they “would like to continue to work to acquire a government order”… which doesn’t mean they’re actually working towards acquiring one.

    And the piece says “. According to receivership documents, Trebor Rx was working on a $6.9-million U.S. deal with the State Project Development Commission in Ghana.” But that “deal” was a scam. Maybe the writer didn’t read far enough into my article to realize that. Did I already ask about the death of investigative reporting in local media?

    Graphene may still be a good solution for masks and other filtration products, however. According to a recent story on The Water Network, other companies are working with graphene in the water industry and appear to have several successes:

    Graphene Flagship Spearhead Project GRAPHIL targets an urgent market and societal need; the removal of toxins and contaminants that are increasingly present in European water sources.
    Installing a Graphil filter at home will make tap water more reliable, allowing people to drink and cook with clean water where it may otherwise not have been possible. This will bring significant cost-saving benefits to the end-user. The filters can also help to reduce the consumption of plastic bottles, working towards a more sustainable future.
    Graphene oxide’s strong chemical affinity to contaminants makes the polysulfone fibres more effective at filtering out unwanted material. The membrane also filters out antibiotics, heavy metals, and PFAs, and many more contaminants, to ensure a steady flow of safe water.

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