Kolkata’s designer masks to stave off the virus

eNewsroom exclusive: As Coronavirus brings the textile and fashion business to near halt, Kolkata designers get creative to fight the blues

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Kolkata: When China shut down to fight the corona virus, it snipped the supply of raw material to the fashion designers. When India phased in a shut-down, local factories had to curtail work to maintain social distancing.

Scores of small and medium factories producing designer wear, had their task cut out: Value-add the little they produce to stay afloat when as accessories such as face-masks became items of relevance in the changed market.

India exports cotton worth around 8.13 billion dollars of which almost 50 percent is to China, it also imports US $460 million worth of synthetic yarn and accessories to sustain the market for designer clothes.

With no fresh orders for clothes in sight and the delivery of existing orders stalled, there was no option but hit the pause button said senior a designer Agnimitra Paul. But realising the hardship to her poor karigars (artisans) she chose to let a smaller workforce make face masks which abruptly went into short supply. “Fortunately, we got good orders. We are making 100 masks a day and but our target is 1,000 as we have to deliver the consignment within the week,” said Paul.

coronavirus covid-19 fashion designer masks west bengal kolkata
A tailor making masks at Nil’s workshop

As destination weddings are postponed till winter, leaving no demand for new clothes, designer Abhishek Dutta. who employs a little more than 100 workers in three workshops, also turned to stitching masks.

“We are making interesting masks with cotton and linen and the inter-lining in woven fabrics. The filter fits between the two membranes. We are using cotton knits as strings instead of synthetic. Though we have not done the costing, the masks are not highly priced,” said Dutta, whose workshop in Alipur correctional home had to close fearing Coronavirus spread there.

“We are not taking any chances with the virus. We have to also think of the welfare of the artisans and their families. If we force them to come to work, it will be inhuman. We have declared leave with pay for our staff,” said designer Nil of Dev R Nil, who has shut his workshop till March 31.

There is a problem though. However hard the design entrepreneurs may try to bridge the gap in demand and supply of masks, they are handicapped by the dwindling workforce.

coronavirus covid-19 fashion designer masks west bengal kolkata
A mask made by Agnimitra Paul

The senior designer is also considering making masks. “Safety and health of our artisans who come from afar by public transport is our prime concern. We made masks for our staff and distributed them for free,” added Nil.

With business hit drastically, city designers petitioned Union Minister for Textiles Smriti Irani for financial aid and moratorium on loan interests since April to tide over the losses. One of the forces behind the letter, Nil, mentioned that it was a desperate attempt of the designer fraternity as everyone is worried about the long-term impact of the shutdown and the impending recession.

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