WATCH | Cape Town clothing companies pivot to make cloth masks by the thousand

2020-04-15 13:35

Two Cape Town clothing companies have found a new way to keep business going while helping in the urgent fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, by creating cloth face masks by the thousand.

Premier Alan Winde visited two manufacturers to witness first-hand how expert cut, make and trim (CMR) staff were producing cloth face masks.

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In Ottery, K-Way usually produces a vast range of sports gear and apparel for Cape Union Mart's K-Way brand.

And in Observatory, Reliance Clothing usually specialises in a range of garments for men, women and children.

Now both local businesses are involved in the urgent design and manufacture of cloth face masks.

Winde said: "In the province's plan to protect our citizens from Covid-19, we're first of all, protecting our health staff - they have to have the N-95 medical masks.

"But what about the people working in the factories, the people working on the front line in shopping centres, in our retail stores, in our spaza shops? How do we get to a stage in which everyone has a mask? That is the end goal.

"We really welcome businesses like this which step up, creating an opportunity for their own sustainability, by rejigging what they do, by manufacturing cloth masks. They are protecting jobs within their own businesses."

'Important skill'

Winde said it was equally exciting that established businesses were also partnering with a range of smaller businesses, which he described as "the missing middle".

This offered a crucial lifeline to staff at these small businesses "to put food on the table and to buy electricity".

Head of the provincial Department of Economic Development and Tourism, Solly Fourie, told News24: "We are here to promote the wearing and manufacture of cloth face masks. It is extremely important for us not only to combat the spread of the virus, but also to enable a very, very important skill we have in the Western Cape - that is the cut, make and trim industry.

"We've got so many people who are so experienced, for so long, in the clothing sector - who now have an opportunity to earn an income from CMT work, driven by design houses like this. Over the short term, this is going to be a tremendous opportunity to create additional employment and to enable - particularly CMT practitioners - to have an income during this very difficult time."

Bobby Fairlamb, managing director of K-Way, explained: "We started making the cloth masks about a week into lockdown. We have a normal staff contingent of 270 staff - we now have about 60 staff in now to make cloth masks.

"We are producing [16 000] to 20 000 masks a day and will ramp this up to meet the demand as we move forward. We are practising safe distance work areas, vigorous and continuous sanitising. The health and well-being of our staff is paramount."

Fairlamb described their partnership with small businesses: "We have a network of smaller SMMEs (small, medium and micro-sized enterprises) or CMTs who we normally work with to make K-Way outdoor clothing. But with the massive knock to the economy this pandemic has had, we won't have sustainable work for these smaller businesses who we outsource to.

"So this (cloth face mask) project is a big godsend. If we can keep these businesses busy with cloth mask-making, they can pay their staff and continue to put bread on their families' tables - until we can, as a nation, get back to a more normal way of life," Fairlamb said.

In Observatory, at Reliance Clothing, a company direct, Sam Schaffer, explained their joint venture with Mike's Sports in central Cape Town: "The Covid-19 crisis had already wrought devastation to large parts of our economy - in South Africa and the world.

"In our business, we have staff with such a vast array of rich skills and abilities - usually used to make fine clothing. Now we have put these wonderful skills to action to design and produce the most urgent need of the day: Face masks.

"This industry has been the beating heart of Cape Town industry since World War 2. But, in the past few decades, it has been difficult to compete internationally.

"Now we have this opportunity to reclaim our local industry and harness our people's vast experience for the public good - while keeping to put food on the table," Schaffer said.

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Read more on:    cape town  |  coronavirus
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