Calgarian starts sun-protective clothing business after skin cancer diagnosis

·3 min read
This long-sleeved T-shirt made by MorrisonRowe blocks UV rays to protect the skin. (Eluvier Acosta/Mas Studios - image credit)
This long-sleeved T-shirt made by MorrisonRowe blocks UV rays to protect the skin. (Eluvier Acosta/Mas Studios - image credit)

A new Calgary company called MorrisonRowe is the first in the city to sell sun-protective clothing for everyday use.

One of its founders, Cara Rathwell, was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer, three years ago. Her dermatologist recommended she start wearing sun-protective clothing as a way to protect herself, but she had trouble when she went looking.

"All I could really find were clothes designed for the beach or sports, and I really wanted something casual like a T-shirt made with natural fibres that I could wear any day," Rathwell told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

She vented to a friend, Tegan Killi, about the need for more available sun-protective clothing.

"She had a brilliant idea to start our own business," said Rathwell. "I was pretty reluctant at first and kind of laughed the idea off and she persisted, and here we are."

What is sun-protective clothing?

Like a bottle of sunscreen has an SPF rating, sun-protective clothing has a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) that indicates the amount of ultraviolet radiation a fabric can block from reaching the skin.

A regular white T-shirt, for example, has a UPF rating of about five. That means one-fifth of the sun's rays can get through the material.

"While you may not get a burn, there is still damage being done, and it's cumulative and irreversible," said Rathwell. "Over time, this exposure really adds up."

Different qualities affect a garment's UPF rating, including colour, fit, type of fabric and weave.

MorrisonRowe clothing has a UPF rating of 50+, meaning it blocks over 98 per cent of ultraviolet rays. It took several rounds of testing through a third party lab to find the right fabric with a high UPF, said Rathwell. but it is free of any chemical treatments to attain UPF 50+.

The company is accepting preorders for its long-sleeved T-shirt, which will ship at the end of July. Rathwell said they will launch pants and short-sleeved T-shirts this summer, and plan to add kid's clothing in the future.

Skin cancer common in Canada

When Rathwell was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, at the age of 36, it wasn't unthinkable.

"I pretty much tick all the boxes when it comes to risk factors for skin cancer," she said. "I have fair skin, red hair, lots of freckles and moles, light-coloured eyes, I burn easily and I have a family history of skin cancer."


More than 80,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in Canada each year, according to the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation. That's higher than the number of new cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined.

Basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, is also the least dangerous, though it can spread if left untreated.

"Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the prime cause of this skin cancer," reads the Canadian Dermatology Association's website. "Frequent severe sunburns and intense sun exposure in childhood increase the risk of basal cell skin cancer in adulthood."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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