Aussie clothing labels buck the trend to thrive during coronavirus

More Australian manufacturers are pivoting to face mask production to help keep their doors open during the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes as face masks become mandatory on Monday for all Victorians, not just those living in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire.

In New South Wales, face masks are not compulsory but the state government is strongly urging people to wear them when out in public from Monday.

Woolworths customers in virus hotspots in Queensland, NSW and the ACT have also been urged to wear masks while they are shopping in-store.

These new rules and recommendations are a major driving force behind the demand for 2020’s must-have item.

In some cases, businesses like Melbourne-based Sample Room have reported hiring more people than ever to keep up with orders.

Before COVID-19, the Collingwood business specialised in pattern making, sampling and product development for Australian and international businesses.

Now, it’s making face masks only.

Using dead stock fabric – old fabric the business has been unable to sell – employees have been churning out 1300 reusable face masks per week.

Demand has been so great that four machinists have since been hired to help the business keep up.

And Sample Room is not the only one.

About 25 per cent of Australia’s ethically accredited businesses have started producing face masks to meet demand, Ethical Clothing Australia has reported.

Last week, ECA’s website crashed due to the high volume of people searching for options online.

“The response from the public … shows that consumers want to buy Australian, but they also want to know that the mask was made by workers who are not being exploited or working in unsafe conditions,” ECA national manager Angela Bell said.

“It has shone a spotlight on the need to have these skills and capabilities here – that our local industry is alive and extremely valuable and they want to contribute in the response to the pandemic.”

Australian womenswear label Fella Hamilton, another ECA-accredited business, is among the growing number of businesses taking advantage of the unlikely opportunities offered by COVID-19.

After shutting 35 stores, the label moved 75 per cent of its business to producing medical scrubs and face masks to sell online and to corporate clients.

After the Victorian government announced face masks would be mandatory, Fella Hamilton saw online orders skyrocket to 15,000 per day, and has employed dozens of new workers, including machinists, drivers and packers.

Stylish, yes. But are they effective?

It’s great news that some businesses are selling face masks to stay afloat, but many of their products don’t necessarily provide serious protection against COVID-19.

That includes those being sold by underwear brand Bonds Australia, which has experienced a huge demand.

Associate Professor Jana Bowden, chair of ethics at Macquarie Business School, said “cloth masks, whilst cute and comfy, are not going to give consumers equivalent protection”.

“There will always be a fashion-conscious consumer who is chasing protection and style … but consumers are also smart,” she said.

“They will recognise that in terms of protection the P2/N95 and surgical options have the one up.”

Associate Professor Bowden said the need for face masks wouldn’t last forever, and that Bonds was grabbing a slice of what is a short-term transitory market.

“Bonds is presently marketing the product as being double layer and with a protective coating,” she said.

“The medical authorities have said three layers is necessary for better protection.

“At the end of the day you might be attracted to the sparkle of a designer mask – but it has to do its utilitarian job too or it defeats the purpose it was made for.”

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