Thinking Of Mobilizing Your Supply Chain for Face Mask Production? Here Are 5 Things to Consider

Sometimes viewed as a non-essential industry, the fashion business has been proving itself useful in the past few months. It is an industry that has found a new line of work. We are now able to take advantage of various offerings like my favorite, New York brand Rag & Bone who made a $30 plaid “Stealth Mask”. Then there are couture label offerings by Prada, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior and let’s not forget high street brands like Gap, Zara, and Brooks Brothers that are also throwing their hat in the ring.

To state the obvious, for the industry, producing and selling fashion in a quarantined world has proved to be both a tricky business and an eye-opener. Many apparel businesses have identified weaknesses in their fashion supply chains that need to be rectified. So far, the short term solution has been to combine forces and collaborate to build a supply chain that is capable of fast-tracking the manufacturing of medical face masks and other protective equipment for hospitals and healthcare workers.

As the fashion industry continues to mobilize its supply chain, we are witnessing positive things emerging like the ’emergency designer network’. It is a collaboration that addresses the global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) while also providing non-medical face coverings. On this fashion designer Phoebe English explained to FT: “What we have been trying to do is talk to as many people as possible, to set up networks, so if there is a problem with supply chains, we can manufacture these items here.”

According to Tengiva, a company created by reputed textile sourcing expert Annie Cyr, non-medical masks are not intended to protect users from other people. They are intended to reduce the risk of contaminating others by reducing the transmission rate of our saliva particles. So to the fashion businesses who are thinking of joining the stampede of those making today’s must-have accessory, the face mask, here are 5 things you need to first consider.

 

  • TEXTILE DECISIONS

 

When you are creating face masks, some textiles need to be avoided. The main reason is that if you use the wrong textile, you pose a risk of suffocation. Cyr advises that fashion businesses avoid using Neoprene, which contains a waterproof foam in the center that does not allow enough air to circulate to breathe. Also, laminated textiles with “plastic” membranes and coated textiles are not a great idea either. 

So what textile should you use? Well, Tengiva recommends woven or knitted textiles. Whichever one you choose, you need to bear in mind that when it comes to the choice of materials, it is all about whether it is dense enough not to let the particles pass too easily, but not too dense that the user cannot breathe. You also need to make sure that the mask can at least be washed 50 times bearing in mind that non-wovens, by the nature of their construction, tend to be more fragile so they should not be washed repeatedly. 

“Tengiva hasn’t found any conclusive studies that show whether synthetic fibers (such as polyester) or cellulosic fibers (such as cotton) retain viruses on the surface longer than others,” states the report. Adding: “The important thing to remember is that medical and non-medical masks lose their effectiveness when wet and that washable masks should always be washed before reuse.”

 

  • DESIGN THINKING

 

The design of the face mask is essential because it makes a difference to know how many layers you will need, to make an efficient face mask. The first thing you need to know is that the amount of layers is based on the choice of material that you are using. Tengiva advises that when manufacturing face masks, use a lighter and less dense material that you can layer two or three times. The end product should be easy to clean, and although an obvious point, it needs to allow people to breathe well while wearing it.

 

  • ALL ABOUT THE FINISHING

 

You need to add a finish that will repel things like droplets. Therefore water-repellent finishes on the surface of materials are added values. Tengiva recommends avoiding finishes that will be in direct contact with the skin and respiratory tract. Since it is sometimes difficult to know their exact components and their reaction with the skin or respiratory tract, Tengiva suggests adding untreated fabric or no additional finish between the skin and treated fabric.

Lastly, you should take note that although they do not have a barrier or protective effect, Tengiva recommends antimicrobial and water-repellent finishes because they add an additional component to reduce other risks.

 

  • FILTER OR NO FILTER

Filter or no filter that has been the question and the answer depends a lot on how the mask is intended to be used. Medical masks have protective filters which means that they can not be washed. Doing so will result in the filter fibers moving and losing their filtering capacity, allowing particles to pass through more quickly the next time they are used.

Non-medical masks are generally designed to be washable, which is one of the reasons why washable non-medical masks do not meet medical requirements. Tengiva recommends that non-medical mask manufacturers do not attempt to comply with medical standards. They should be careful not to communicate to their customers that specific components meet these standards because this could be misleading.

 

  • PERFECTING YOUR MASK

 

Depending on whether you are making PPE or non-medical face coverings, there are a few boxes that you should tick before presenting your finished product. The first one is the design element, the mask needs to not only be comfortable, but it should not move around, so the wearer doesn’t need to touch it. It must be easy to remove, and it must fit the contour as tightly as possible. This means try to avoid leaving any gaps that could allow particles to escape quickly.

Your breathable mask should also have a ‘use and care guide’ that shows the wearer how to remove it safely and how to care for it properly. Remember that not every face cover needs to offer the same thing, and therefore you need to be careful about how effective your mask will be when it comes to protection. Tengiva advises that you should document the specific strain of the virus that the cover helps protect against because bacteria and viruses are not the same.

Learn how you can leverage Suuchi’s network for PPE needs

Written by Muchaneta Kapfunde

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