They come in silk, cotton and synthetics; with filters and without; over-the-head and over-the-ears; with aesthetic spin or the bare minimum
The humble face mask, whose use was mostly confined to medical institutions, became a non-negotiable part of people's everyday dress code this year thanks to the airborne coronavirus, which has written the script for 2020.
When the lethal pathogen first arrived in Bangladesh in March, the supply, understandably, was too meagre vis-à-vis the sudden deluge of demand.
But enterprise is in the nation’s DNA, so all forms of business, starting from neighbourhood tailors to big garment factories, jumped in to making masks, providing consumers with a variety of options in terms of material and form.
They come in silk, cotton and synthetics; with filters and without; over-the-head and over-the-ears; with aesthetic spin or the bare minimum.
However, one business behemoth was already manufacturing masks well before coronavirus became part of the general discourse, so it was as if the company was born to serve the nation in this manner: Pran-RFL.
Pran-RFL had set up a subsidiary Getwell to manufacture surgical masks back in 2016.
“Before the pandemic, the use of face masks was limited to medical. But with the outbreak of covid-19, the demand for masks went up sharply,” Kamruzzaman Kamal, director marketing of PRAN-RFL Group told Dhaka Tribune.
The pandemic thrust Getwell to ramp up its production by more than 16 times.
Previously, it used to churn out 15,000 units of surgical masks a day. Now, it makes 2.5 lakh and by next month it would hit 3.5 lakh, Kamal said.
And considering the demand, Getwell is planning to manufacture the KN 95 masks.
Given that the rogue virus would be lurking in the air in the foreseeable future, clothing brands have made masks as part of their merchandise.
Lifestyle giant Yellow, a subsidiary of Beximco, was the first clothing brand in Bangladesh to take face masks to the realm of fashion in early April, anticipating people's wish to turn mask wear into a fashion statement.
“Beximco has a big setup in textile with modern technology, so we seized the opportunity,” said Raihan Kabir, marketing manager of Yellow.
With the view to giving consumers a buffet of mask options, Yellow rolled the face-covering in the categories of essential, fashion, embroidery, technical and denim.
“People are lapping up our masks because of the quality,” Kabir added.
Sultana Nasreen Shumi, the owner of upscale boutique Azaaraz, was offering a complimentary mask to her clients with every outfit ordered.
“I am getting an overwhelming response from my clients for custom masks to match their outfits.”
All social occasions like weddings and parties have started again, so people are matching masks with their fancy outfits, she added.
Along with mask wear, some were donning the full personal protective equipment (PPE) suit to keep coronavirus at bay, so its demand increased manifold.
As the second-largest exporter of clothing products, it was easy to move for producing PPE for both domestic as well as for export markets.
This was also an opportunity for exporters to go for new segments of products as the global buyers were interested in procuring from Bangladesh.
Some 33 companies manufactured PPE for the export market, with some selling in the local market too, according to data from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
As of November, Bangladesh earned $495 million from PPE exports, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.
“When Covid-19 hit Bangladesh, it was very tough to get protective products even for the front liners. Considering the demand, we first provided it as a social responsibility and distributed a good number of PPEs to front liners such as doctors,” said SM Khaled, managing director of Snowtex.
Through fine-tuning, Snowtex has developed masks with polyester, which provide 86 per cent protection against the coronavirus.
The company sold about 200,000 units of PPE in the local market through its brand Sara.
At present, there is no demand for PPE but the face masks are very much in demand, Khaled added.
Beximco Group has exported 6.5 million PPEs to the American brand Hanes.
The company made an investment of $100 million on setting up a fully vertical PPE park on 20 acres of land integrated with a comprehensive Intertek laboratory, sterilisation facilities and an automated cut and sew operation with clean rooms, said Syed Naved Husain, Beximco CEO and Group Director.
"Beximco Health" is selling PPE domestically and exporting all over the world including North America, Europe and the Middle East.