Coronavirus: Local apparel firms switch to making masks from fabric

(From left) Ms Adele Chung with Mr Chung Chi Kwong and Madam Saw Yock Lan in Meiko Tailor's Geylang East factory on April 5, 2020.
(From left) Ms Adele Chung with Mr Chung Chi Kwong and Madam Saw Yock Lan in Meiko Tailor's Geylang East factory on April 5, 2020.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Local bespoke tailor Meiko Tailor is shutting down for a month from Tuesday (April 7) in keeping with the more stringent measures imposed by Singapore but it has been work-as-usual for the firm in the last few days.

It has been making reusable masks - and giving them out for free.

The firm is an example of a local apparel company that has quickly shifted operations to produce fabric masks, joining the national effort to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Meiko Tailor's efforts could see it being classified as an essential service, which means it can continue running during the nationwide suspension of non-essential services from April 7 to May 4, wrote Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and for Culture, Community and Youth, in a Facebook post on Saturday .

"I know that others in the garment industry have started similar projects. If your company is among them, you could be deemed as providing essential services," said Ms Sim, who is Holland-Bukit Timah MP.

"Please contact eddiewan@taff.org.sg at our trade association, the Textile & Fashion Federation (Singapore) to lodge your company name and UEN. I am proud of our garment makers' initiative!"

The Textile & Fashion Federation (Singapore) said companies that wish to produce masks on their premises during the suspension period may register their details at bit.ly/mask4sg. No further application at GoBusiness is needed, as the federation will coordinate with Enterprise Singapore and the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

"Meanwhile, safe distancing measures must be put in place and companies which had signed up to produce masks to operate their work space during the suspension period shall produce only masks," the federation said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday that the Government would no longer discourage people who are well from wearing masks because of evidence that a few could be infected but not show any symptoms. He also announced that reusable masks would be distributed to all households in Singapore.

Ms Adele Chung, daughter of master tailor Chung Chi Kwong who handles overall marketing operations for Meiko Tailor, said the mask-making effort started out as something just for employees and family members. Now, the firm is trying trying to reach out to logistics and Grab delivery drivers or riders, who would be out and about during the period.

"We first made the masks back in early February, when there was a scramble for masks. It's more for basic protection, and not meant for medical purposes," said Ms Chung.

 
 

After the outlet at Pan Pacific Singapore was shut as the hotel turned into one of the designated ones for Singapore returnees on stay-home notices, the tailor moved operations to its workshop in Paya Lebar.

"It started as a random thought, and we never thought about selling them for profit. We have all the materials and the workshop, so we might as well make the most of it. It's also to occupy our time and keep spirits high, because this whole coronavirus saga can be quite dampening."

She said that since Friday's announcement, the firm has been spending its final days ramping up its mask-making efforts to give them to those who needed them at no cost.

The firm was initially making about 10 to 15 per day, but on Saturday increased the number to about 40 to 50. "At full capacity, if we dedicate all our resources just to make masks, we will be able to make about 300 a day," said Ms Chung.

Her father said the process started through trial and error, cutting cloth samples, researching online and creating a few prototypes. "From a basic piece of cloth, we made changes such as having a slot to put a filter," Mr Chung said.

His daughter told The Straits Times: "We have applied to be classified as essential services. We want to be part of this nationwide initiative."

Another bespoke tailor, CYC, is also on a similar drive, with managing director Fong Loo Fern saying the company wanted to provide 200,000 reusable masks to foreign workers inhere.

 
 
 

Mrs Fong said: "A friend from a textile training centre said she wanted her students to learn how to make masks. So I thought, I got the room and the cloth, and they have the manpower, so we can collaborate. We can also open up the sewing to the public. We'll give them the elastic loop and the nose bridge and the material, and in this way we can expand production more quickly."

The call for volunteers on the firm's website and social media channels led to an "overwhelming" response, with all of its do-it-yourself mask kits reserved. The kits will be distributed on a rolling basis to volunteers.

Mrs Fong said: "These are the different fabrics we have in stock in the factory anyway, so we thought we would do something to help."

Other than the initiative, CYC is also producing masks for sale, using its high-end shirting fabric. Each mask sells for $20 a piece.