This is a time that none of us will forget. Covid-19 has held no prisoners, leaving a state of devastation and a sense of apocalyptic eeriness in its wake. As I sit down to write this piece the number of cases worldwide has hit 5,105,897 people and still rising. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is required by all frontline staff, yet there has been a significant national shortage, leaving workers vulnerable whilst grappling with the sheer volume of patients coming through their doors.
So, how did we get here?
A national shortage
The masks used in medical settings like hospitals and care homes are disposable and single-use i.e. made from plastic. Up until recently all PPE was purchased from China, which is now seen as a short-term solution, given not only the lead time; but also, the rise in demand globally. With the rest of the world in a similar position and resources finite, it was only logical to start manufacturing immediately in the UK.
Enter Kate Hill founder of Make it British, who together with Fashion Roundtable has secured UK manufacturing for much needed PPE. The British Textile Consortium has also been set up to help people find manufacturers that can either make PPE or to volunteer to adjust business models to aid in the making. This together with London-based designers like Holly Fulton, Bethany Williams and Phoebe English of the Emergency Designer Network who are galvanising local garment production to offer scrubs for hospitals, has created a wartime effort to meet the demand.
Single-use vs. re-usable
There have been mixed messages about whether, we as the general public, should wear single-use or re-usable masks. The most useful information I have found is over at Peoples Masks. This is a group set up by Central Saint Martins’ staff member Laura Baker, to encourage the general public in the making of thousands of washable and reusable masks, which are needed by key workers and volunteers keeping our society afloat. As we continue to fight this pandemic, Peoples Masks still need as many volunteers to make as many masks as possible. As well as frontline staff – workers at your local supermarket, pharmacy, neighbours, refuge centres, foodbanks and charities will gratefully receive these.
A new report by UCL’s Plastic Waste Innovation Hub predicts that if every person in the UK
used a single-use face mask every day for the next year, this would create an estimated 66,000 tonnes of contaminated non-degradable waste and around ten times more climate change than if we chose a re-usable option.
As well as frequently washing hands and social distancing, there is also growing evidence that cloth masks can aid in reducing the transmission if used widely in situations where for example physical distancing may not be possible, i.e. public transport. This is down to the fact that we could unknowingly be carriers of the virus, so by covering our mouth and nose we can help to keep infection rates down.
How to get started
If you have a sewing machine, one of the most effective patterns trialled by Peoples Masks is included step-by-step below.
· Fabric lying around the house – 100% cotton works well
· Sewing Machine
· Elastic (if not available – old t-shirts cut int strips will work)
No sewing machine? Don’t worry, you can also take a look at this You-tube video by Jess Dang showing how to repurpose old clothing to make masks. Olivia Palermo wears the no-sew mask well, after being spotted walking her dog on the streets of New York sporting a silk bandana fashioned as a mask.
With Vogue declaring masks as the next break-out trend, companies are jumping on the bandwagon. If you’d prefer to buy a mask, breathable and natural fabrics work best – so think cotton, silk and bamboo. Bamboo in particular, has some rather amazing properties that make it one of my top picks, including being antibacterial and highly sweat absorbent. Designers like Collina Strada, New York are offering a 1:5 ratio, so for every mask made from deadstock fabric, five health workers will also receive a mask. Going one step further, they will also send free masks to anyone in need, which I found particularly poignant. Masks come in all price ranges and Lone Design Club offer a few options including the fabric and pattern to make your own mask as well as a range of up-cycled cotton masks by Yoroshiko.
With masks here to stay for the foreseeable it’s about getting creative with it. There are no rules as such and in the words of Palermo – “safety, but make it fashion.”