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.
”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 week.
”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