A silver lining during the economic challenges due to COVID-19 lockdown measures has been the overnight springing up of a local personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturing industry, which has left seamstresses and fabric supply companies inundated with demands for face masks.
Kim Gibson, managing director of Carey’s Fabric and Uniform Store, said her company – which manufactures and sells cloth face masks – has had demand in the thousands.
“It’s difficult to say how many we’ve made, so many. And it’s ongoing because we’ve been contracted by major companies for us to produce hundreds just for that company. We’ve gotten orders for a thousand at a time for major companies and six hundred and five hundred, so a lot of people are busy,” she told Guardian Business.
“We have, so far, over 20 people actually making these masks and we’re still available to have more people. So, if anyone is out of a job with a machine and would like to make some extra money, they can contact us.”
New changes announced last week under the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (No.2) Amendment outline that every person must wear a mask covering their nose and mouth while away from their residence.
The good part in all of this, Gibson said, is that at a time when so many are stuck at home and out of work, there are some that can still earn a living.
“Because we make uniforms anyway, we have a lot of seamstresses in our connection. What we do is we have them sewing for us and we sell the masks. It’s so good because we have seamstresses now that would have been laid off from jobs, that aren’t getting paid because of their particular industry, whatever that may be, is closed and stopped paying them. Now, they are providing a service to the general public and making money while doing so,” she said.
“So, in doing this, they’re not only making a living and being able to buy groceries, but they are also helping to keep Bahamians safe. Wearing a cloth mask, we protect ourselves from others, but they are also protected from us, so it’s a win-win.”
Marvin Pinder, the president of Home Fabrics – which is not manufacturing masks but providing material for mask production – said the new industry has helped his company earn some revenue, where it would otherwise be shuttered.
“We have been inundated with requests for supplies since the beginning, but have only recently received permission to take orders remotely and deliver the same externally. We are not permitted to have indoor shopping,” he said in an email interview with Guardian Business.
“It has helped with revenue in a small way, but the important thing is that we are serving the public, particularly our cottage industries. There are literally hundreds of persons making masks now and requesting supplies, which enables more persons to share in the economic opportunity.”
Eleuthera resident Laquinta Moss, 23, has been an entrepreneur since the age of 17 and owns a gift shop on that island.
She said even before the government’s mandate that every resident wear a mask when away from their homes, she was producing the PPEs.
“I made masks for me and one for my fiancé and when I posted it, it just went viral. I’ve had 200 requests in one night. I have messages coming in every day about these masks, so from April 4, I was making masks for people to sell. So far, I’ve sold maybe 100 and I have another 200 to 300 I need to get out by Tuesday,” she said.
On Thursday, the prime minister announced a ban on the importation of non-medical protective face masks in “an effort to protect the local mask manufacturing industry that has sprung up overnight”.
In response, Moss said, “I think it’s good because it would help entrepreneurs make funds. Our businesses are with tourists and how there are no tourists now, we need it. I think it’s good that he’s letting small businesses kind of handle this stuff.
“But maybe if they make it easier for us to find fabric, we can make a lot more. A lot of days I have to stop and hunt down fabric. I really don’t want to go around people to be honest, but I have to make the masks.”