Mluleki Qwabe, who is in the textile industry with his business The Modern Man Africa, shows the masks he has made to stay afloat during lockdown. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad ANA
Mluleki Qwabe, who is in the textile industry with his business The Modern Man Africa, shows the masks he has made to stay afloat during lockdown. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad ANA

Masking the Covid-19 crisis

By Adryan Ogle Time of article published Jun 27, 2020

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Durban - Covid-19 has sparked a mini revival for small independent clothing firms.

The start of the lockdown brought trouble for the small businesses across the city, but the need for masks has helped them stay afloat.

Mluleki Qwabe, 25, owner of The Modern Man, said the local menswear retailer usually sold custom and ready-made suits, shoes and accessories, but was not able to operate during the initial stages of the lockdown.

“Clients cancelled orders and postponed payments because the events they were going to attend were cancelled, like graduations or weddings.

"Things got much easier when the government allowed local small manufacturers to make fabric masks for the public,” he said.

Qwabe was locked out of his office at SmartXchange, so he was not able to get fabric in his store to make the masks, and shops were closed.

“I had to set up shop at my flat and start designing masks which would complement my customers’ stylish clothing. We had to ask our fellow tailors and designers for off-cuts to sew our masks,” Qwabe said.

“At the start of lockdown, the masks available were boring and lacking in style. We wanted to create something not too loud or too colourful but as subtle as our suits,” he said.

Similarly, Cator Manor-based Du Confidence Designs, owned by Duduzile Ngubane, 42, experienced hardships during the level 5 lockdown.

“Lockdown was very challenging as we had to refund our clients after cancellation of events and shut down completely. Stress and anxiety kicked in,” said Ngubane.

Although the store originally specialised in clothes mainly for plus-size women, masks have now been added.

“Almost every designer ventured into mask production. We wanted our masks to be unique but be within the government specs to ensure safety of our clients and to contribute in fighting the pandemic. We waited to see what other mask producers were not doing. We then realised that most manufacturers were not providing filters for extra protection, so our masks came with changeable filters,” she said.

“Our biggest achievement is that we’re now selling our masks at Makro online marketplace and will now be easily accessible nationwide,” she said.

Samukelisiwe Khaniyile, 35, owner of Qhawekazi Styles_Collection in Pietermaritzburg, said mask production had grown her business unbelievably.

“Our business receives support and coaching from the South African Breweries Foundation programme, and my mentor initially advised me to produce masks. That's is how we’ve been able to sustain the business and create jobs.”

With the grant funding, Qhawekazi Styles_Collection was able to buy the necessary machinery and start production on April 11, creating 10 new jobs.

Mtofo Trading Enterprise, a sewing business owned by Thembeka Kunene and her mother, Hlengiwe Zungu, in Luganda, Mariannhill, is another inspiring recovery story built on masks.

"In every crisis there’s an opportunity, she said. "It’s on you to make things happen with what you have.”

The Independent on Saturday

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