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Covid-19: How Aba fashion designers turn adversity into opportunity

Fashion designers in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State, are among several groups that are negatively affected by lockdowns occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fashion designers in the city have had to stop production as most of their patrons come from other parts of the country, especially Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and other parts of the West coast.  Up till now, the traders who depend on Aba fashion designers for their clothing needs cannot access Aba owing to inter-state restrictions.

This has resulted in loss of jobs and income for over 20,000 artisans engaged in tailoring and fashion designing in the city.

The good news, however, is that the designers with their ingenuity have turned their adversity into opportunity. They are now taking advantage of the scarcity of barrier masks (face masks) in Nigeria to launch into the production of what is now known as made-in-Aba personal protective equipment (facemasks and hazmat suits).

The made-in-Aba PPEs are now in high demand in the country as they help in the fight against the dreaded coronavirus pandemic.

This new line of business has also kept the artisans in business, thereby reducing hunger and unemployment in Abia State.

BusinessDay checks revealed that Aba tailors are producing for Abia State Government and also for individuals. It is important to note that Aba tailors supplied 400,000 units of face masks to Danjuma Foundation, while the military is to take delivery of a truckload of face masks from the industrial city. The masks are meant for Abuja and the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) in Kaduna.

BusinessDay also gathered that some state governments have shown interest in sourcing PPEs from Aba.

Klotplanet Global Limited, a garment manufacturing outfit, which spearheaded mass production of facemasks and personal protective equipment (PPE) in Aba, is appealing for the state government’s support to sustain production.

Obinna Anoruo, manager, Klotplanet, in an interview with BusinessDay in Aba, explained that the company branched into protective kits for Covid-19 production to meet the needs of Nigerians and reduce the cost of imported ones.

He stated that the production costs of the kits and masks were high, which explained his call for government’s support to reduce the cost of production.

He further said that since demand for the masks would reduce after Covid-19 infections, only government support could make the venture a viable business for them to remain in it.

 “After Covid-19, we will like to sustain the production of these masks and PPEs, especially for hospitals and eateries.

“That is why we need to align with government; we need its support to produce and supply to hospitals which will continue to need the kits after coronavirus infections ceases,” he said.

Anoruo noted that Klotplanet had been in operation for more than 20 years, creating garments of different kinds for its customers.

“We ventured into the production of PPEs and facemasks to make them available to the people at affordable prices,” he said.

He noted that Klotplanet produced masks in a pack of 50 pieces, sold for N7,500, stressing that the company had the capacity to produce up to 500, 000 pieces daily.

“Our facemask product has a hydrophobic dense layer (water-resistant) and a second filter layer, which is combined to make the protective mask,” he said.

“We sell a pack of 50 pieces at N7, 500, because the cost of production pushes the price that high, but if government can help in terms of cost of raw materials, the cost of production will reduce.”

He noted that the price of threads and other materials had also risen.

He explained that the production of facemasks and PPEs, which had become a new business line for the outfit, would not be a one-off thing but sustained after Covid-19 if he would get funding.

On his part, Johnson Obasi, who specialises in suit making, explained that he ventured into PPE production to avoid staying idle, but suddenly found it very interesting as it had attracted clients from different parts of the country.

“I’m a regular tailor that specialises in suit making. However, Covid-19 pandemic came and affected my line of business drastically. And because I don’t want to stay idle, I decided to go into production of facemasks since it was in high demand.

“The patronage has been encouraging, but we need more patronage because our workforce is strong. I produce 500 pieces of facemasks, daily.

“My clients come from all over Nigeria, especially Lagos and Onitsha, because I produce customized facemasks for some cooperate bodies.

“Since the state government has made facemasks compulsory, we need financial assistance from government to acquire modern machines to produce seamlessly.

“You can see the machines we are using as against what the Chinese use. If we have better machines, our production quality will improve. We will also produce more and employ more hands, thereby helping government to reduce unemployment in the country.

“It’s a pity that some persons are still moving about unprotected. I appeal to them to try and get facemasks. Yes, it’s not a fashionable thing and nobody is comfortable with it, but it’s for our own safety. It goes beyond fashion. It’s a matter of life and death,” he advised.

To ensure that these products meet set standards, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has said it is working with designers in Aba to ensure that their PPE products meet standards.

According to Oluyomi Lad-Alabi, state coordinator, SON, “Our mandate is to ensure that whatever is coming out from any quarter complies with our regulations, because we have our guidelines. It is our own little contribution in combating this invisible enemy, the coronavirus.”

He said the concern of the SON was primarily to ensure that the qualities of PPEs coming out from Abia State meet its standards.

“I’ve sent samples of some of the products from Aba to our laboratory for test, but from my own observation, the products look okay. But we have to subject them to scientific proof to see the level of their compliance.

“But so far, the ingenuity of Aba artisans is awesome. I’ve seen some that look okay, but that does not really mean that they have passed the test until the test result is out.

“Aba tailors are wonderful. The only thing I noticed was that most of the sizes they started with were for small faces, but that issue has been taken care of as they now have different sizes for different face circumferences.

“Most of the earlier barrier masks were small, because they were manufactured in China where the circumference was so small. They were not made for large faces, but we are beyond that level now,” he further said.

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