From clutch to mask: how industrial production is changing to face the emergency

Fashion brands are producing hospital gowns and masks, fragrance companies are making hand sanitizers, the automotive sector is dealing with surgical devices or parts for hospital machinery. We are at war, yes, but now we can count on new allies.

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

The global coronavirus pandemic is shaping a new scenario every day, in which the rapid spread of contagion is subjecting governance around the world to a constant review of directives in an attempt to amortize losses in economic and human terms. A danger that has taken everyone by surprise: while spending decades militarizing nations, preparing for a new and possible war, there was no thought of an invisible and much more devious enemy. On the front line, there are doctors, anaesthetists, nurses and all the hospital staff who deal with the emergency; however, one of the side effects of the virus was to discover the weak points of every national health system. In this chessboard where even the terminology to be used has become war terminology, there are new players coming to rescue us: big companies, multinationals and holdings from various sectors.

As far as the Italian territory is concerned, it was Prada who, at the request of the Region of Tuscany, started the production of 80,000 hospital gowns and 110,000 masks for healthcare personnel on March 18th. In addition Gucci, controlled by the French group Kering, is preparing to deliver 1,100,000 surgical masks and 55,000 hospital gowns to the same Region of Tuscany: a substantial donation in addition to that of 2 million euros in favor of some facilities in Lombardy, Veneto, Tuscany and Lazio plus the personal contribution of 100,000 euros by CEO Marco Bizzarri, to the health care of Reggio Emilia. The production of masks has started also in France, in the factories of Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent, who are also part of Kering Group.

Converting factories’ production is something that didn’t happened since Second World War and today, 80 years later, is part of the duty of big fashion brands, as they became holders of an economic force that in recent times has allowed them to cross over different disciplines, with the opening of foundations and major cultural initiatives, for example. The same goes for luxury giant LVMH, which has announced on Twitter that it wants to donate 40 million surgical masks to French hospitals, also thanks to contacts with a Chinese manufacturer that would enhance its production. The Swedish fast fashion group H&M has announced that it will provide protective equipment for hospitals around the world, taking over production and the distribution network. In Spain, the country that is currently suffering most severely from the pandemic, Mango is stepping forward and is committed to deliver 2 million masks to support healthcare workers.

What about fragrances companies? They are turning their production into hand sanitizers. Still on the move, since March 15, it was LVMH, converting the production chains of Dior, Guerlain and Givenchy. An example followed by L’Oréal, Coty and other beauty brands.

Depending on the phases of the crisis – and only now, after weeks of quarantine, Italy is registering a very slight drop in contagions and hospitalizations – hospital facilities are facing many types of shortages: from masks and equipment to beds and intubation machinery. Or, even worse, the workforce, infected or forced into quarantine. To help a country we need everyone’s commitment, that is why even the leading gaming platform Razer has decided to contribute to the cause (although this is not a sector in crisis, given the state of general home restriction and the high demand for video games). “Razer team understands that we all have a role to play in the fight against the virus – no matter what industry we come from. Over the past few days, our designers and engineers have been working in 24-hour shifts to convert some of our existing production lines to produce surgical masks so we can donate them to countries around the world,” writes CEO Min-Liang Tan on his social channels, saying he will donate one million masks to health authorities in several countries around the world starting in Singapore, where Razer’s headquarters are.

In the UK there has been a major mobilisation by Prime Minister Boris Johnson who, after the unhappy exit concerning a dreaded “herd immunity”, he asked 60 companies to urge a reconversion of their production apparatus. Among them Ford and Dyson; however, there is still uncertainty about the timing that will be needed to move from the manufacture of mechanical and electronic gears to the manufacture of parts for medical devices, such as lung ventilators.

There are also expectations about the next moves in the US: Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla, among the richest men in the world, in the past few days has declared he is available for the country and – we learn from his Twitter profile – has opened a dialogue with the American company Medtronic, leader in biomedical technologies.

Opening image: photo by visuals on Unsplash

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