Newsletter 11 of 2020

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 Newsletter 11 / 3 April 2020

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Clothing, textile industry in project to produce face masks locally

By Irma Venter

A roject is underway to produce a homegrown mask for use by all South Africans, close to the standard of the FFP2 and N95 facemasks.

FF2 and N95 masks are medical standard masks, often provided to hospital staff working on the frontline of infection control. They offer between 94% and 95% minimum filter efficiency.

There are a number of local companies able to produce FFP2 masks in South Africa.

However, this particular facemask project is a collective attempt by the South African textile and clothing industry to boost the fight against Covid-19, and to ensure the sustainability of the industry in the South Africa through this difficult period, says Kingsgate Clothing Group executive Ahmed Dhai.

Kingsgate is a family business that will celebrate its sixty-fifth birthday in May this year. The company has a factory in Hammarsdale, near Durban and produces 95% of its clothing in Southern Africa. It supplies clothing lines to retail outlets such as Mr Price, PEP and Jet, while it also provides various government departments with uniforms, linen and patient wear.

The group employs about 1 000 people directly, as well as roughly 5 500 people indirectly, through, for example, outsourcing to a number of other factories, as well as providing work to printing and embroidery businesses.

“We don’t normally produce face masks,” says Dhai. “But we do want to help in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.”

In order to control the rate at which the virus is spreading, each South African, following the current lockdown, will need to wear a mask that is washable and reusable, he adds.

N95 masks are molded into shape, explains Dhai, which makes it difficult to produce, especially by the local clothing sector.

“On a scale of this kind, it is just too difficult.”

However, in searching for an alternative, Dhai came across a US company producing masks for the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is willing to share the intellectual property of its product with South Africa.

Kingsgate Clothing has already produced a few prototypes of a mask based on this, but is now waiting for government to release its final specifications on products of this kind.

“If we meet those specifications we are ready to scale up production to the benefit of South Africa,” says Dhai.

“We’re not looking to make a profit, but we are looking at sustaining our business and our employees over the next few months.

“It is completely unprecedented that the clothing and textile industry has managed to organise itself in such a short space of time to fight this virus.”   EN

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Polo manufactures 250,000 ‘commuter face masks’ at Atlantis factory

Polo South Africa has pledged 250,000 cotton fabric masks for the City of Cape Town to distribute to commuters and essential service workers across the country during the Covid-19 pandemic.

While many South Africans are working from home, some are still dependent on public transport. Commuters who are part of essential services as well as first responders, are more challenged with adhering to the physical distancing that is advised right now.

Given the global mask shortage and the call to act immediately to ‘flatten the curve’, the project sprang into action on Monday, 16 March.

Polo says it set up a task team at its shirt factory in Atlantis to manufacture the ‘commuter face masks’, which are not medical masks but rather a cotton fabric, washable and reusable facemask. The masks are currently freely distributed via the City of Cape Town to vulnerable residents at clinics and public transport interchanges.

According to the company, the factory will continue production until the pledge has been met and the masks have been delivered areas across the country that are most in need.

“As President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his initial address, our country’s ‘Thuma Mina’ moment is upon us as never before. As a fashion brand, this is our small way of helping our nation’s commuters and to stand alongside the health services who are hard at work at the front lines,” comments Polo MD Mark Oliver.

Zahid Badroodien, health councillor at City of Cape Town, adds, “We have distributed the first 10,000 masks so far and thanks to Polo South Africa for providing this much-needed resource. Bizcommuity

Face masks from SA to the world

By Thando Maeko

Mass production: A worker at U-Mask’s factory in Centurion stands behind a full load of N95 respirator masks. Orders for the protective gear have risen by 15% over the past two months. (Paul Botes/M&G)

Jordean Eksteen’s cellphone will not stop ringing. The latest call comes from Italy, which has been placed under quarantine following the outbreak of Covid-19 in that country, which is struggling to stop its rapidly rising death toll.

“It has been a crazy two months,” says Eksteen as he puts his phone back on silent mode.

Eksteen (32) is the co-owner and co-founder of face mask factory U-Mask. He and his business partner had directed their focus on making protective masks for mining and agricultural companies. But this changed two months ago, when orders for their equivalent of the N95 respirator mask (used by medical professionals to protect themselves from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face) increased exponentially. The company has seen demand for the mask grow by more than 15% as people seek to protect themselves from contracting Covid-19.

Last month, the company donated 30000 face masks to China in a bid to help the Asian country stop the spread of the virus. The achievement is proudly displayed on a red banner that hangs at the entrance of U-Mask’s headquarters in Centurion.

Eksteen says the donation was made to help that country contain the virus before it spread further, “because if a country like China struggles to contain it, then we have an even slimmer chance of doing so”.

The U-Mask factory is one of the smallest warehouse buildings at Icon Industrial Park, situated north of Johannesburg: it covers an area measuring just 800m2. Yet within this small space, the factory has been able to produce an additional two-million face masks since January.

Workers responsible for assembling the masks are made to wear personal protective gear, including a mask, a full bodysuit covering their clothes, and hair and shoe nets.

The soundproof assembly area is the factory’s nerve centre. The only way to catch a glimpse of the machines used in the production process is through a small window on the side of the secluded area.

Boxes filled with masks surround the product-assembly area, waiting to be shipped to their destination. The company is now operating its production lines all day, every day. Eksteen says that as soon as workers have completed an order, it is immediately shipped out.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the company has employed an additional 30 workers to ease the load on its 80-strong staff. Over the next six months, U-Mask plans to employ 50 more people. To cope with the increase in demand, it has introduced alternate eight-hourly shifts, with staff working a four-day week. This way, they are offered flexibility and a work-life balance. Employees are also given the option of working overtime shifts. Their temperatures are checked at the start and end of each shift to ensure that they are healthy enough to work on the masks.

But, as Covid-19 continues to spread, having surpassed the 110000 mark for infections worldwide, there has been a great deal of public debate about whether wearing a mask is beneficial. According to South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the United States’s top public health official, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, wearing a mask to protect oneself against the virus is unnecessary. Both warn that wearing the mask incorrectly can also lead to infection.

Regardless of these warnings, there have been reports of face masks selling out in pharmacies in South Korea and the US, with some healthcare facilities finding it hard to procure the protective wear for their staff.

Earlier this month, as Covid-19 continued to spread, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), urged manufacturers to boost their mask production. Since the outbreak of the disease, the WHO says, costs of surgical masks have surged and the price of N95 respirators has trebled.

The UN body estimates that 89-million medical masks are required monthly in response to Covid-19. The number is expected to increase as more infections are reported. This, it says, will have a problematic knock-on effect: “Supplies can take months to deliver and market manipulation is widespread, with stocks frequently being sold to the highest bidder.”

U-Mask has been a beneficiary of this increase in demand for the surgical masks. It has partnered with more than 10 distributors, located as far afield as Africa, Australia, China, Europe and South America, to move its sought-after product.

At one point, Eksteen says, the company had to decline orders from German luxury vehicle manufacturer BMW and cellphone manufacturers in South Korea, which requested bulk orders for their staff.  M&G

Did you know……..

Acrylic is a man-made fibre that has a soft, wool-like hand, is machine washable and has excellent colour retention.  It is often an additive to textiles to take advantage of these properties.

Nylon is also man-made and was first produced in 1938.  It has high strength, excellent resilience and superior abrasion resistence.  Nylon replaced silk stockings for women in the early part of the 20th century

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