Translated by
Nicola Mira
Mar 17, 2020
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Is the fashion industry preparing for large-scale mask manufacturing?

Translated by
Nicola Mira
Mar 17, 2020

How to help fight against the Covid-19 pandemic? The prime concern of textile manufacturers is to protect their employees, but the question prompts a broader reflection on how to be of further help. In China, several ready-to-wear factories have converted their production lines to manufacture protective face masks, and some European producers are following their lead and doing the same. Mask shortages are affecting hospitals, while private citizens cannot get hold of masks at all.

In the current health emergency, producers are seeking solutions to show their solidarity - Pixabay

French producer Les Tissages de Charlieu announced on Monday it intends to manufacture washable masks on an industrial scale, to deal with the shortage. A prototype made by Les Tissages de Charlieu is set to be approved by the French Defence Procurement Agency today. The factory, located in Nord de Roanne, normally produces jacquard fabrics for the fashion and aeronautics industry, and indicated it has an output capacity of between 30,000 and 50,000 masks per day with its adapted production line.

The mask prototype by Les Tissages de Charlieu - Tissages de Charlieu/Facebook

"We will provide every detail to the whole French textile industry, so that we can all join in the effort and generate the highest output capacity possible," posted Les Tissages de Charlieu on LinkedIn. Following the post, several producers took up the call, among them Marc Pradal, president of the Union Française des Industries Mode et Habillement (the French association of fashion and apparel producers), who will discuss mask production with his associates, and Annick Jéhanne (of sustainable fashion association Nordcréa), keen to involve her own workshop, Plateau Fertile, in the project.

On Monday, French denim specialist Atelier Tuffery also indicated on Facebook it intends to produce masks and make them available for free to those who need them. "We are thinking about alternative solutions for simple protection masks that aren't rated FFP2 or FFP3," said Atelier Tuffery.

Masks by Atelier Tuffery, whose factory has been operating in Florac, France, since 1892 - Atelier Tuffery/Facebook

In France and elsewhere, manufacturers of surgical-grade and professional masks in a variety of protection levels are already producing at full capacity. After a few diplomatic hitches on the issue, last Friday the EU Commission instructed EU member states to coordinate production Europe-wide, and to act with solidarity. French newspaper Les Echos reported that alternative solutions are being explored, and that "textile manufacturers have been approached and asked to temporarily convert some of their production lines to mask production." Other fashion industry players are likely to act accordingly in the next few days.

In Italy, a country hit very hard by the pandemic, a number of apparel companies are also getting involved. AFP has reported that a tie producer in the southern Italian region of Calabria decided to use its fabric offcuts to produce masks. "Proceeds from the sales will be donated to the Calabria regional authority to buy medical supplies," said the company's owner, Maurizio Talarico. "I asked myself what I could do to help at this tragic time for Italy and for my region, Calabria. (...) I realised I could produce masks using fabric offcuts. Even if the masks aren't certified, they can certainly protect people who have not been infected."

Piedmont-based fashion group Miroglio has also converted some of its production lines to manufacture washable protective masks, with a forecast output volume of 600,000 units in two weeks. The regional authorities gave the go-ahead, although the masks aren't yet CE-certified, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Another protective product that helps fight the spread of Covid-19, disinfectant hydro-alcoholic gel, is also in short supply in hospitals. On Sunday, luxury group LVMH announced it is going to produce hydro-alcoholic gel at scale in three of its French fragrance factories, to supply hospitals free of charge. The group has given no indication it is planning to produce masks at its apparel factories.

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