COVID-19: How the Singapore fashion community is pivoting to make face masks
Fashion designers, clothing brands and tailors are joining forces to sew reusable masks for Singapore’s migrant community and healthcare frontliners.
Singapore-based Tala Alamuddin, sister of human rights lawyer Amal Clooney (yes, George Clooney’s wife), recently copped some flak for being tone-deaf by selling luxury face masks, priced at S$46 each, on her website. Accused of profiteering from the pandemic, the fashion designer eventually had to clarify that all proceeds from the mask sales will be donated to the Singapore Red Cross in aid of those directly affected by the coronavirus.
But while her gesture seems to have been taken the wrong way – at least initially – this has not stopped a slew of local designers from stepping up to contribute to alleviating the mask shortage that Singapore is currently facing.
From fashion brands with in-house ateliers to local tailors and independent designers and even fashion school students, many in Singapore’s fashion community have risen to the challenge of pivoting their work to produce masks for the needy.
Arguably one of the most ambitious initiatives is bespoke tailor brand CYC’s plan to produce 300,000 masks for migrant workers. Even before the circuit breaker was implemented, Loo Fern Fong, managing director of CYC, said she felt a calling to find a way to alleviate the plight of foreign workers in the country.
“I often see the foreign workers on the streets doing all the work that we Singaporeans do not want to do and I felt sorry for them and concerned about their safety during this pandemic,” said Loo.
So, she enlisted her team to begin prototyping and testing various mask designs to test their efficacy. As one of Singapore’s most established tailors, CYC already has the capability to cut the large amounts of fabric to size for the masks. What they needed were more people who could sew to help piece the masks together. The Textile and Fashion Industry Centre, the training arm of the Textile & Fashion Federation (TaFF), volunteered to help with the mask making efforts, inspiring Loo to also crowdsource for volunteers to sew the masks.
Since then, in collaboration with TaFF, other fashion brands such as Bodynits, Common Suits and Fuchsia Lane have mobilised their sewing staff to pitch in. In addition, the Fairmont Hotel and other organisations including the Singapore Prison Services and Tzu Chi Singapore have contributed to sewing efforts.
CYC also has an online application form for individuals who have the capability to sew 300 masks within 10 days to volunteer their skills. They will contact these volunteers – about 200 out of 4,000 sign-ups have been selected – on a rolling basis, to ensure proper coordination of logistics. To date, about 40,000 masks have been made.
Others in the fashion community have also found various ways to make a difference in this crisis.
Fashion brand Klarra’s design team has donated a batch of reusable non-medical masks to Project Masks by The People’s Association Women’s Integrated Network Council, while bridal designer Fatimah Mohsin launched an independent project to make washable masks for frontliners in Singapore.
Singapore-based designers Ifeoma Ubby of Olive Ankara and Nicolas Laville of Nicolas Laville Couture have also turned to mask-making, with some proceeds from the sale of their masks going towards charities.
Ubby’s masks are made of African wax print fabrics and are reusable. “These are not medical masks (but thanks to the double layer construction you can fit your surgical mask inside for higher protection),” she wrote on Instagram, adding: “10% of the revenue will be donated to local charities helping migrant workers and Singaporeans in need.”
Laville, a couturier who used to work for Anne Fontaine, Kenzo and Christian Lacroix and who now produces bespoke gowns and wedding dresses, applied his pattern-making skills to producing (non-surgical) masks, “Using material that I had and not used at all. Some were personalised as well.”
Laville’s initial batch of 55 masks have sold out, but those who are interested can send him a WhatsApp message (details on his website) – 80 per cent of the proceeds will go to charity.
These efforts have in turn gone on to inspire even more kind hearted souls to pitch in with their skills. About a week ago, Corneliu Dinu Tudor Bodiciu, lecturer-in-charge of the Fashion Design and Textiles Programme at the School of Fashion, Lasalle College of the Arts, began sewing masks for migrant workers at home, made with sponsored fabrics and cotton bedsheets.
When his fashion design students heard of what he was doing, he was touched that they began to offer their help as well, even though they are currently in the midst of completing their final year school submissions without access to the school’s design facilities. About eight of them will start sewing within the week, he told CNA Luxury.
Ultimately, those involved in mask making say they hope the fruits of their labour will convey their gratitude to the workers and frontliners who have consistently contributed to the country’s growth.
Said Loo, “The overwhelming support from so many Singaporeans show that our people do have a heart for migrant workers and that we are all very grateful for the work that they do in Singapore. We are thankful that there are so many people who are so committed to be on the frontline.”