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'We've actually been busier than ever': Face mask demand keeps ethical clothing businesses afloat

3 August 2020 at 5:22 pm
Luke Michael
Around a quarter of ethical clothing manufacturers are now making face masks

Luke Michael | 3 August 2020 at 5:22 pm


'We've actually been busier than ever': Face mask demand keeps ethical clothing businesses afloat
3 August 2020 at 5:22 pm

Around a quarter of ethical clothing manufacturers are now making face masks

As demand for face masks in Australia surges, ethical clothing manufacturers are pivoting to ensure Australians can buy face coverings that are sustainable and locally made.

Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) said its website crashed last week due to the high volume of people searching for face mask options, as Victoria moved to make face coverings mandatory. 

ECA-accredited businesses have reported that they are hiring more people than ever to keep up with demand.

Angela Bell, ECA national manager, said it was great to see the local industry and its workers responding with great speed and capability to the COVID crisis.

“They have adapted, created new designs and made the products that are required to protect frontline workers, and now everyday citizens, against COVID-19,” 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 [wants] to contribute in the response to the pandemic. It is fortunate that this is leading to greater volumes of work for our local businesses and their workers.”

Bell said it was vital that workers’ rights were not forgotten during the pandemic, particularly given the complex supply chains inherent in the clothing/fashion industry.

“The response from the public that we have seen in the past week 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,” she said.

From likely hibernation to ‘busier than ever’

One ethical clothing company benefitting from growing face mask demand is Nya, a Victorian ECA-accredited business that makes dresses out of hemp and organic cotton.

Nya co-director Tania Egan said the business planned to go into hibernation during the pandemic, but a throwaway social media post turned the company’s fortunes around.

Egan told Pro Bono News that they made a reusable mask for a friend using excess dress fabric and posted it on their Instagram as a “bit of a joke”.

But soon, the business was inundated with requests for masks to the point where it has shifted 100 per cent to mask production.

“Every single one of our dresses that had been left over after our sales ended was chopped up and sold as a mask, and yet we were still getting orders,” Egan said.

“So we had to buy more fabric and get it printed in Melbourne and made up as quickly as possible.     

“We were [going to] put our business into hibernation mode because everything’s so tight financially. But now we’ve actually been busier than ever.”

Egan and fellow co-director Fleur Grundy are making about 50 masks a day themselves and have had to get some outside help to keep up with demand.

She estimates they have now made around 3,000 masks in total, with plans to continue producing them as long as the need remains. 

Egan added that it was clear Australians wanted the option to buy face masks that were ethically sourced and produced.   

“We took a call from one particular client who is a wholesaler for hair and beauty supplies, and he said he bought a whole lot of cheaply made imported masks for staff, but staff didn’t want to wear them,” she said.

“He said he’d like to order some from us, and liked the fact ours were ethically and locally made.  

“It’s interesting gathering a whole new raft of clients who may never have thought about these things before.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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