Even as the demand for personal protection gears continues to rise globally on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, face mask – as a product category both in terms of manufacturing and as a fashion statement by local brands – is gaining currency in Bangladesh.
And all this follows even as Bangladesh recently set guideline with ‘minimum requirements’ for the production of non-medical fabric masks.
The United Nations and development partners, led by the WHO, have supported the Government in this regard. This guideline for fabric-mask is an ‘important step’ towards safe and regulated production of masks and providing essential guidelines to local manufacturers, readymade garment (RMG) sector and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to join the fight against COVID-19, reportedly maintained a statement issued by the UN office in Dhaka, which underlined that the activity has been carried out under the Bangladesh Preparedness and Response Plan.
The standards in this direction have been developed in coordination with Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) with technical advice from the WHO, which led a working group of local PPE experts supported by USAID, JICA, BUET, ICDDRB and FAO to elaborate the specifications and minimum testing requirements for fabric masks. The guidelines follow WHO recommendations and incorporate specifications and quality control parameters to produce the non-medical fabric masks by local manufacturers.
As per reports, the guideline is not a regulatory requirement for sale of masks, but rather a useful resource to guide manufacturers to produce selection of quality masks and a set of parameters for local testing laboratories to conduct the appropriate tests. “We welcome the new set of standards which will make it easier for national manufacturers and NGOs to produce washable masks at an affordable price. This way, we can avoid disposable masks adding to the waste problem,” said Mia Seppo, UN Resident coordinator in Bangladesh, while Dr. Bardan Jung Rana, WHO Representative to Bangladesh, on his part, said, “We are very proud to have supported DGDA in making Bangladesh among the very few countries in the world with such standards for fabric masks, a major step forward in ensuring the population has access to quality protection masks, as this is proven to be an intervention with very high community impact in preventing the transmission of coronavirus.”
In addition to the support for elaborating the standards of mask production, the UN is also reportedly working closely with the Government for the implementation of information campaigns aimed at increasing awareness about the importance and correct use of fabric masks, together with other protection measures such as maintaining physical distance and observing hand hygiene.
So even as Bangladesh and other stakeholders were working out the guidelines for production of non-medical fabric masks, few new manufacturers in the country have started the export of face masks overseas, while many others have introduced different varieties of face masks for the domestic market, in the backdrop of rising demand for the same.
One such name is Apparel Promoters Limited, which has already finalised a deal for shipping 25 million pieces of KN95 masks to the US market. Apparel Promoters, a Chittagong-based RMG accessories manufacturer, recently announced that it would produce internationally testified medical masks and KN95 masks, under the brand name ‘Smart Smile’ for both the domestic and global markets.
The company has already partnered with China-based Golden Found Company and installed machineries with state-of-the-art technologies in its factory, to this end.
Meanwhile, Urmi Group has also launched a three-layered antiviral and antimicrobial face mask called Turaag Protex. The mask is manufactured using Swiss Technology (HeiQ Viroblock). The Turaag Protex mask is 99.9 per cent effective at killing viruses, which has been tested and proven by a neutral organisation following ISO 18184: 2019 policy, claimed a press release issued by the company in this direction.
“Made with reusable fabric, it is possible to wash the mask and use it up to 25 times. It is also very soft and comfortable for long-time use, and is available in different colours. This mask will also be available for children soon,” the press release read, adding, “Among the three layers of fabric, the outer layer fabric prevents water droplets from passing through, the middle layer is treated with HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03 to destroy viruses. The ingredients used for the middle layer of this mask are proven by an ISO 18184: 2019 test to achieve 99.9 per cent virus inactivity in a matter of minutes.”
Medical grade or made of regular fabrics, one thing is sure that face masks are here to stay, thanks to COVID-19. And this has led many brands and retailers in Bangladesh to give masks some aesthetic spin and turn them into fashion statements, in what many see an attempt to cash in on the rising demand for masks, which have become an integral part of everyday dress code lately.
According to media reports, Yellow from the house of BEXIMCO was the first clothing brand in the country to attempt making masks into a fashion statement. Today, the brand reportedly sells an array of face masks in different categories – essential, fashion, embroidery, technical, and denim (for men, women and children) – at its 15 outlets.
“Since many people use masks, we have given importance to fashion as well as safety,” Hadi SA Chowdhury, Head – Retail Operations at Yellow, told the media.
So far, Yellow – which will soon manufacture four-layered N95 masks and three-layer surgical masks – has sold 2.5 lakh units of face masks, according to Hadi.
A host of other brands and boutiques – Aarong, SaRa, and Azaaraz among others – have since taken to offering fashionable face masks, keeping with the market demands.
“The response is tremendous… more than 50 per cent of the masks were sold in 7 days,” said Mohammad Ashraful Alam, CEO, Aarong, while adding that to cater to the increasing demand, Aarong will launch a face mask production line in a factory of Ayesha Abed Foundation, which serves as one of the top supply hubs of the brand.
Meanwhile, lifestyle brand SaRa from Snowtex (a renowned apparel manufacturer and exporter in Bangladesh) has also started selling masks from April.
“We are overwhelmed with the customers’ response… once we bring out the product, it gets sold out very quickly,” stated SM Khaled, Managing Director, Snowtex and SaRa, which has so far reportedly sold around 2 lakh face masks.
“I do not sell masks at shops. But I’m giving out a face mask with each of my products, out of responsibility,” claimed Sultana Nasreen Shumi, Owner of the upscale boutique Azaaraz, adding, “If an outfit is red, I make a red mask. And if the dress is embroidered, I embroider the mask,” indicating towards the fact that face masks are no longer just a necessity, but also a fashion statement that might very well gain momentum in the coming days both at the domestic market and in the global arena.