Kenyan designers create colourful face masks for the poor during the Covid-19 pandemic


Masks with typically East African designs made by a furniture company in Kenya. Photo: Michelle Vugutsa/Love Artisan/dpa

In Kenya, fashion and furniture designers are using their
 craft to make face masks for those living in slums trying to protect
 themselves from becoming infected with the novel coronavirus. 

”Our key and core mission was really to try and get these masks into
 the hands and onto the faces of vulnerable people, ” explains
 furniture maker Sara Reeves.

“The more people wearing masks, the
 better it is for all of us in Kenya.”

A government directive requires Kenyans to wear masks in public – but
 many can’t afford them, especially those living in the slums of the
 capital Nairobi where space is tight and hygiene dire, not to mention 
meagre financial reserves. 

Reeves’ company Love Artisan usually makes unique furniture pieces 
in a small workshop in Nairobi, but she has been forced to close it
 because of the crisis.

Joseph, a small entrepreneur in Nairobi, distributes hand-sewn masks from the furniture company Love Artisan to people in the Kenyan capital. Photo: Joseph Gichunji/Love Artisan/dpaJoseph, a small entrepreneur in Nairobi, distributes hand-sewn masks from the furniture company Love Artisan to people in the Kenyan capital. Photo: Joseph Gichunji/Love Artisan/dpa

”We had to close the workshop on March 17 because there was no safe
way for us to operate... two days into that I thought, ‘Wait a
 minute! We have three fundis (artisans) who are healthy and can work, 
we have three sewing machines. We could get them to their homes!”

Employees are now using their time, sewing machines and scraps of
 cloth for a good cause – and can keep earning an income.

"We are not doing this from a viewpoint of making a profit...we are 
not working in a perfect system, but I feel like they’re better than 
nothing, ” Reeves says.

The masks are certainly a lot more stylish as they are made from the 
colourful kitenge fabrics, typical of East Africa, that Reeves uses 
to upholster her chairs, stools and cushions.

 The masks were initially made for fellow traders and artisans near 
their workshop, but demand has increased.

Reeves explains that for every mask sold, she donates one. So far, 
 they have produced about 500 masks, with 700 more to follow this

”This thing is evolving at a rapid rate...our existing customers and 
networks are wanting to purchase masks, ” she says, adding that they
 have reached their capacity and hope to employ more fundis by the end
 of the week.

Other Kenyan designers have also launched similar initiatives, such
 as the Lilabare fashion brand which usually makes clothes, but now
 also produces masks – 10% of the masks sold are donated to
those in need.

”At the end of the day, we are a sustainable company and at the heart
 of that ethos is community. We cannot just sit back and do nothing,”
 said Lilabare’s Ria Ana Sejpal. – dpa

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