When in March Covid-19 pandemic started spreading throughout the globe, the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) grew. It followed that prices of PPE reached indecent amounts. Each country acknowledged from this situation that production had to start being more local, due to the shortages and the lockdown situation which delayed import-export of goods.
People rather than buying 25 pounds face masks, started making their own by watching DIY tutorials. Fashion factories responded by start producing their own lines of protective equipment to sell or donate where it was needed within the country where they are based.
Phoebe English and Bethany Williams set up in England a volunteering enterprise “Emergency Designer Network” supplementing PPE stocks for the NHS in the fight against Covid-19. LVMH, in France, provided hand sanitizers to the government in 72 hours.Prada mobilised its factory in Perugia to produce masks to give to Italian hospitals. Inditex distributed two million masks across Spain and manufactured 13,000 gowns for healthcare teams. Masks4medicine, in New York, facilitated the donation and distribution of PPE to healthcare workers. In Hungary, Nanushka secured a delivery of 12,000 masks which were donated to health authorities. These are only few examples of brands who helped their countries.
The help given to the respective countries is undeniable, but what they might not have think of are the implications and the consequences of producing PPE.
PPE are medical devices, not garments and have to be done properly with the appropriate materials in order to avoid the risk of wrong use.
What these factories are producing are equipment acceptable for low-risk environments, not hospitals. While cotton is completely fine for a civilian daily use face mask, it is not safe for those who work in the healthy system.
Furthermore, as the British PPE manufacturer Richard Lamb states “Every time a patient coughs or sneezes on a cotton isolation gown, it will soak straight through”.
It is not safe for who wears it and for those who are around. Cotton threads cannot be used for medical PPE, and cannot even be defined PPE, especially when (most of the times) are combined with polyester, “If you have cotton thread on a polyester garment, the laundry has to dry that garment for longer to dry the cotton bits out, which doesn’t do the polyester any good” said Lamb.
Another issue that fashion factories face or will face soon is the return to normal production. Social distancing has to be implemented but as Kate Hills, founder of Make It British, said “The machines in big curtains and home furnishings factories are naturally further apart, because the product is bigger,but factories making T-shirts have machines closer together, so you can only safely position someone at every third machine. A lot of factories can’t bring back their full staff. Some are running shifts, while others are staggering two-day breaks and working through the weekend.” The changes that they have to make in order to work in a safe environment are many, and also the costs for taking the correct safety measures are undeniable.
By Alice Del Rossi