Right now the news is full of retailer and manufacturers jumping to make medical masks and gowns. We wanted to share why, at our apparel manufacturing facility LIFE, we’re not.
On Thursday, March 19th, we received a call from Bickford Senior Living, a longtime client, asking if we could make masks for their senior living facilities as they only had enough for one per person and were struggling to get additional supplies. Within 24 hours our team designed a mask and put it into production. At that time, Haiti only had one case of COVID-19 and factories were running. By the end of day Friday there were five cases and the Haitian government announced a shut down that evening putting a stop to all textile production in the country. Over the weekend, we adjusted the pattern for home sewing and got it out to volunteer sewers to make masks for Bickford and other facilities. (Learn more and download the pattern here.)
Right now in Haiti, the textile sewing industry is putting enormous pressure on the government to allow factories to reopen. They’re pushing with the angle of sewing medical masks and gowns, but most don’t have the ability to make the shift quickly because of fabric supply. While they are putting plans together for hand washing stations and other sanitation measures, many of these factories have thousands of employees who work in close conditions and pass garment parts from person to person. There is no way to prevent germs from passing within the factories.
That being said, there is the reality of the Haitian economy – people don’t have savings accounts for deep freezes. Stocking up on supplies is not a thing. Without the factories running, the 55,000+ people who work in the textile sector are unemployed. If the factories reopen, they will go back to work. There are no safety nets in Haiti, the government will not be depositing cash into everyone’s bank accounts. If factories open, workers will make a choice between a paycheck and the potential threat to the health and safety of them and their family and neighbors. In a country with very little healthcare and little ability to social distance, going to work could be a devastating decision.
So what are we doing differently?
- As soon as the shutdown was announced, we got on the phone with our team and told them we would continue to pay our people at least for the next two payrolls (one month).
- Our management team is advocating for the workers on industry calls and text chains. We are not pushing for factories to reopen next week, instead we’re asking for all of the factories to consider the risks to their employees above the desires to make money or even to help sew hospital gowns.
- We’re analyzing cash positions and expenses and talking to suppliers and customers in the hope that we can continue to pay our workers so they can care for their families during these unprecedented times.
Here is an update from Ariane, our COO, who chose stay in Haiti when most American citizens were leaving:
“Since the announcement of the first reported cases of COVID-19 in Haiti, my every day life has completely changed like everyone else all around the world. The country was in complete panic the next day with everyone frantically trying to run last minute errands at the same time. It’s been almost been two weeks since then and I’ve noticed that things have definitely calmed down. I’ve noticed a shift in precautions taken by not only the government but the people of Haiti as well, as their awareness on the virus has expanded.
Our team is doing a great job of frequently touching base with one another and keeping the morale high during these difficult times. The gesture of granting two payrolls spoke volumes to the employees. I didn’t get to speak to everyone, but those I did get the chance to talk to were extremely grateful. They know that we are all in this together and have their best interest at heart.”
How can you help?
- If you sew at home, jump in on making masks or gowns. We’ve provided a pattern for masks but there are several options out on the internet. Have questions? Shoot us an email and we’ll find an answer!
- Buy a tee, or two or ten! Many people are taking this opportunity to clean out closets and organize their homes. Make rags out those old tees and hoodies and restock for spring with new basics or graphic tees that, now more than ever, care for the people that make them.
- Share our story! Online shopping is trending up now more than ever. Encourage your friends and family to make ethical choices while shopping. Follow the hashtag #StayHomeLiveFair to see other consumers and brands connecting in solidarity with workers and promoting Fair Trade goods.
Watch for additional updates from our team in Haiti over the next few weeks as we navigate our ever-changing world. Thank you for your continued support!