In your face! Designer masks that may help flatten the curve Locally made fabric masks by SA designers and seamstresses are offering protection from Covid-19
14 April 2020 Reading Time: 2 Minutes Article Number: 9 / 25 Suthentira Govender Journalist MASKED Kathy Berman, founder of Masks4Good, wears an African-print mask she believes will help protect South Africans from Covid-19. What started as a fashion accessory among the young and the hip has evolved into protective wear in weeks due to the dreaded coronavirus. In the face of the great mask debate, Kathy Berman founded Masks4Good, which produces reusable masks using African-print fabrics. Berman managed a creative social entrepreneurs' accelerator at the University of Pretoria until Covid-19 hit SA. Determined to keep people employed, she brought together a team of young designers and seamstresses to create and stitch the masks, which can be purchased on the Masks4Good website. “The concept is to encourage those who can afford the high-end masks, priced up to R250, to buy two and pay it forward. “We donate one mask for every two purchased as part of our 241 campaign,” said Berman. There is no question that the use of masks is one of the best ways of preventing the spread of infection. Dr Zweli Mkhize “Those who find the price point too high can buy less expensive fabric masks. “The masks are made from Vlisco and Shweshwe, and were originally designed by an Afro-punk designer and worn as fashion wear.” Worldwide, debate has been raging about the effectiveness of masks. Last week, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said South Africans should wear face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19. “There is no question that the use of masks is one of the best ways of preventing the spread of infection. We recommend them, particularly where people have any cough or symptoms, or in a situation where social distancing is difficult,” he said. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said a mask should only be worn by those who have Covid-19 or those who are looking after people who do. “The most effective ways to protect yourself and others against Covid-19 are to frequently clean your hands, cover your cough with the bend of elbow or tissue, and maintain a distance of at least one metre from people who are coughing or sneezing,” the organisation says on its website. Berman is mindful of the different views. “We are not encouraging people to purchase protective masks that are needed by health-care workers. But we are following the view that masks are a better option than nothing at all.” Masks4Good have a wax coating and are washable. “All masks are washed after making, packaged in plastic bags and the packaging sterilised before we distribute them,” she said. Meanwhile, new website masks4SA.co.za, by a team of creatives led by Bruce and Kimlyn Harbottle, aims to spread the message that homemade masks can help curb the spread of the virus. Its products are inspired by the Czech Republic, which went from zero mask usage to 100% in 10 days, a move that, according to the website, has helped slow the growth of new Covid-19 cases. According to Dr Sui Huang, a molecular and cell biologist at the US-based Institute for System Biology, wearing a mask can offer “partial protection and has called for a broad adoption of them”. The masks4SA.co.za creators say on their website: “Masks don’t guarantee you won’t get infected. But they do make it more difficult for viruses to multiply.” The website offers curated patterns, tutorials and resources to help people make their own masks.