SA masks Change lives, Cheer up Belgians
By Nivashni Nair
A consignment at 1.200 brightly colored masks made in Diepsloot, Alexandra and Tembisa that traveled almost 13.000km to be worn in Belgium tell a life changing story of 270 township seamstresses during the pandemic. The seamstresses are part of the Masks4All initiative of the Youth Employment Service (YES), which has so far seen nearly 120,000 masks made and injected more than R1m into township businesses.
“The vibrant yellow. blue and red shweshwe cut through the staid bureaucracy of EU headquarters and old grey buildings. They carry the wall or a big blue sky, a story of triumph. a real person who made this by hand and whose life was changed as a result.” said YES CE, Tashmia Ismail- Saville.
“We marketed the masks on Linkedln and partner company contacts in the EU messaged to say the shweshwe was beautiful and would look good in the dreary Belgian weather. They placed an order and [ell in love with the beautilul South African story that came with the masks. They placed an order for 1,200 cotton shweshwe masks made in Diepsloot, Alex and Tembisa by our local seamstresses.”
Soweto seamstress Aletta Mashao, 60, does not spend time thinking about distribution channels. market linkages or exchange rates, but is thrilled to have entered the international market. She has been tasked with teaching young people to sew masks. “When the lockdown began, none at us had an income,” she said. “I am retired and didn‘t apply for a social grant as yet. The young seamstresses had no jobs. With this initiative, we are able to use our skills to provide for families. My prayer is that l am able to continue teaching the youth t0 sew because I believe that masks are going to be needed for a long time and this will mean that their skill will be needed.”
When most businesses were closed at the start of the lockdown, YES identified existing black-owned township businesses that were ready to operate. “We anticipated that communities were going to be hit badly by the lockdown” said Ismail-Saville. “We approached our partner Youth@Work to help us build our network of small businesses to quickly build production capacity. We created a platform, assembled a list of sewers, and started to market to our corporate partners for orders.” Sewer Nalhi Ngubo, 24, said the initiative gave him an income “It keeps me going. I am also glad that I am a helping hand in the fight against COVID.”
“Ask one supplier to make “30,000 masks, or to fulfil an export order with a short turnaround, and you’d probably be disappointed and never return, regardless of the quality. Put the same order into a network of seamstresses, manage the standardisation, branding and quality, and your order could be packed and shipped within days” — YES CE Tashmia Ismail-Saville
(Source: SA masks change lives, cheer up Belgians, The Sunday Times, pp 5, 16 August 2020)