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From fashion to face masks, how COVID-19 is creating rag trade jobs


It began with a line of hospital gowns and scrubs called Fella Healthware.

Then, noting that countries with strong mask takeup appeared to be having early success against COVID-19, Ms Hamilton and husband David prepared the business for a direction they could have never imagined.

Some of the masks being produced by womenswear brand Fella Hamilton.

Some of the masks being produced by womenswear brand Fella Hamilton.Credit:Simon Schluter

“It’s now full steam ahead in masks,” she said.

Such has been the demand – 50,000 mask orders in the first four days after Premier Daniel Andrews announced they would become mandatory – the business has added 10 casual employees to its pre-pandemic roster and created, or saved, even more jobs at its subcontractors and suppliers.

Ms Hamilton said masks now accounted for about 80 per cent of the business, which could produce between 20,000 and 25,000 individual items a week, and growing.

The jobs are not only for machinists, who are now in short supply, but packers, sorters and drivers, among others.

In a unexpected turn for a brand specialising in women’s fashion for more than 50 years, Fella Hamilton will supply 5000 masks the Australian Defence Force, one of many new clients that include councils, health providers and thousands of individuals and families.

The burgeoning mask industry is one of the few bright spots for Victorian manufacturing in the coronavirus pandemic.

Ethical Clothing Australia, the national accreditation body for the textiles, clothing and footwear industry, found that about a fifth of its accredited businesses were now making face coverings.

ECA’s national manager Angela Bell said its website and those of some businesses crashed last month from the surge in traffic.

Founder Fella Hamilton with son David and daughter-in-law Sharon celebrating 50 years of business in 2019.

Founder Fella Hamilton with son David and daughter-in-law Sharon celebrating 50 years of business in 2019.

“It has shone a spotlight on the need to have these skills and capabilities here – that our local industry is alive and extremely valuable and they want to contribute in the response to the pandemic,” Ms Bell said.

The Sample Room, a Collingwood-based pattern making and small-run clothes production house, has gone from seven staff members to 11 in its pivot to 90 per cent mask making.

Even director Julia Van Der Sommen is on the machines to help meet the demand coming from all over Australia.

With last week’s edict from the state government that regional Victorians must also start wearing masks in public, business is only expected to grow.

The Sample Room recently produced 12,000 masks for Yarra Trams.

Both businesses expected masks to remain staple wardroom items for months to come.

“I think what will happen now is that people will start discussing masks,” Ms Van Der Sommen said.

“There’ll be those conversations: ‘Oh, I love your mask where did you get it?’ Or, ‘This mask is more comfortable than that mask’. It’s going to be about the finer details.”

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