From May 1 it will be mandatory for everyone in South Africa to wear a face mask in public in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus. This is as the country moves to ease the nearly six-week national lockdown. Fashion makers are grabbing this opportunity with both hands.
Luxury fashion brands such as Prada, Gucci and Balenciaga have begun manufacturing masks since the pandemic started and local brands Ephymol, Tshepo Jeans and Falke have all either paused their production or expanded their apparel manufacturing to include the now mandatory face masks.
Because wearing face masks will become the new normal, Proudly South African has also launched a dedicated online portal on its website to allow people to purchase these items from local vendors.
Under the five-week lockdown, all nonessential businesses including clothing and textile factories were shut. Although the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union reached an agreement with employers to guarantee six weeks of full pay for 80000 workers, the industry is still expected to be one of the hardest hit due to the disruption in local and global supply chains.
Tshepo Mohlala, founder of denim brand Tshepo the Jean Maker, says the company has ensured that no employee among the 15-member workforce has been laid off during this period. The demand for the face masks also ensures that workers are back at work and are able to “put food on the table” despite the disruption of the pandemic.
For Martin Globellar who is the general manager of high performance sock company Falke, the coronavirus is unlike any other as many companies have shut down or slowed their production. The company has dedicated a section of its plant in Pretoria to manufacturing face masks but says there are still some challenges in distributing the product as many clothing retailers are unable to sell and the restrictions have also placed a strain on the supply of raw materials.
Since launching its face mask apparel earlier this week, luxury menswear brand Ephymol has been inundated with requests for purchase from people of all walks of life. For the brand’s founder and designer, Ephraim Molingoana, it is important that people are reminded that “safety comes first” and in this case style will come after.
The use of the mask is to help reduce droplets that may come out of a person’s mouth or nose during speaking, coughing and sneezing. The World Health Organisation recommends that people who have been infected with the coronavirus and those who are caring for people suspected of having coronavirus wear masks at all times.
The global health body says the use of medical masks, however, should be reserved for healthcare workers.
The general public has been advised by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize to wear cloth face masks to protect themselves and others against the virus which has so far claimed nearly 100 lives in South Africa and infected over 4900 others.
Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian