Protective face masks have quickly become the only “must have” accessory that most of us are going to put on for the foreseeable future. With massive shortages in the production and supply of these masks, women and the clothing industry are stepping up to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Their efforts have not only contributed to the protection of others, but have provided a livelihood to several people during a period when women from unorganised sectors and female-dominated sectors are losing their jobs, and the fashion industry, being a non-essential business, would have had to close shop completely.
Women’s self-help groups combat coronavirus in India
Women’s self-help groups (SHG) have risen to the occasion with extraordinary dedication and diligence. SHG women are, in addition to producing face masks and other protective equipment, running community kitchens, delivering essentials and food supplies, trying to spread sensitivity to hygiene and combating spread of incorrect information.
In Kerala, over 14.50 lakh cloth masks have been manufactured by more than 300 women-led micro-enterprises under their State Poverty Eradication Mission – the Kudumbashree.
Jeevanam is another women’s group in Kerala where the women are reusing cotton fabric from clothes to stitch 2-ply masks. By watching and learning from online video tutorials, the women are able to produce 200 to 300 masks per day between 30 women.
Women have been instrumental in the fight against coronavirus in Odisha as well. Sujata Kartikeyan’s Mission Shakti initiated the mass production of masks by women SHGs across Odisha. Around 15 lakh cotton masks have been produced by 605 different SHGs.
Similarly SEWA in Assam’s Dibrugarh district, Save the Children in Gaya and Champaran district, women in Madhya Pradesh’s Damoh district and Bihar, have produced face masks in accordance with government specifications and are selling them for around ten to thirty rupees.
Fashion to function
From high-end couture brands like Prada, Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton, to niche fashion designers, indie brands, and even DIY vendors on online sites like Etsy – a large number of clothing companies have pivoted to production of consumer grade and medical face masks.
By shifting their production to that of personal protective equipment, fashion companies have succeeded in shifting their status from fashion to function; from non-essential business to essential business.
This global transition from producing clothing apparel to face masks has been hailed on the Internet, from the New Yorker to Bloomberg, as a clever and helpful step.
A win-win situation
Women in India have been given an opportunity to earn a living during an economically turbulent time; the fashion industry has been given a life raft to stay afloat while also building brand goodwill; the people get access to an essential equipment in the war against the coronavirus; and since masks are technically the only things being produced in the fashion industry, we get to call wearing the masks while still in our pyjamas a “fashion statement”. A much-needed win right now.