Since the directive that wearing facemasks is compulsory in Rivers State, nearly every household in the state capital has a sewing machine making facemasks, as our reporter finds out.
An epidemic of tailoring has broken out in Port Harcourt as most houses in Obio Akpor, Oyigbo, Eleme, Aboada and Degema areas have set up a sewing business to churn out facemasks.
Following the state government’s directive that the use of facemasks is mandatory, tailors have risen to the challenge to meet the demand.
Governor Wike had said that he resolved to impose additional measures by the new Executive Order which are targeted at reinforcing its efforts toward stopping the spread of the virus in the state.
Governor Nyesom Wike had, in a broadcast on Friday, said all residents must wear facemasks before stepping out of their homes into public places, among other measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Since then a mad rush for facemasks by the apprehensive residents of the state who do not want to be on the wrong side of the law has been a blessing for hundreds of tailors.
Less than 48 hours after the governor’s pronouncement, the clatter of sewing machine could be heard in almost every household as tailors set to work.
The facemasks they produce are then passed on to vendors who hawk them on the streets and at the entrances of major public buildings such as hospitals and banks.
Chinoso Ugwu, 13, is one of the vendors outside a bank at Oyigbo.
“I hawk the facemasks for my mother,” he said. “The facemasks was designed and sewn by my mother. She sew it in large quantities and distribute to vendors who buy it in large quantities and re-sell on a retail basis. We are presently on holiday and this is the only thing I can do to help my parents.”
He said that a piece of facemask goes for N100.
Another vendor, Adamu Abdullahi said he sells facemasks with sweets and chewing gums.
“Before I used to hawk chewing gum, sweets and handkerchiefs but since the state government announced that every resident should wear facemask, I have to add facemask to my trade. I have tailors from whom I buy the facemasks. The cost ranges between N100 to N200 depending on the texture of the material used. Facemasks sewn with expensive and quality materials goes for N300 to N400 but the ones with less expensive material goes for hundred naira,” he said.
Another vendor, who did not want to be named, said, “I am a teacher and since schools are not in session, I have to put my skills to use by sewing facemasks. I sew them myself and hawk them at the same time. I am doing this to fill the gap between me and the intermediaries who come to buy and resell. I have people who come to buy but I want to be more productive and make more money that is the reason why I also hawk the materials.”
Chidi Elechi, a Port Harcourt-based fashion designer said the facemask boom in the state has added value to his business.
“Before now, we are having a lull in our business because of lockdown. The lockdown has created serious economic crisis that many families are out of business. What many Nigerians are scrambling for now is how to afford two square meals and not fashion such as wearing new clothes. So this development has put many of us out of business because we have lost many of our customers. But thank God for governor Wike who has made it compulsory for residents to wear facemask,” he said.
“Companies, groups and institutions have approached many us to sew facemask for them. As we talk now, I have a contract to sew more than 5,000 facemasks for a group that wants to distribute it to people,” he said.
Apart from groups and organizations, private individuals approach him to design facemasks that will match their personalities and that of their families.
He charges between N500 to N1500 to sew a facemask for those that can afford it.
A seamstress based in Oyigbo, Ngozi Ngacha, said her business is gradually coming back to life.
“Since the pronouncement, I am back to business. For more than two weeks now, my shop has been under lock and key. All my customers have gone under and none of them are bringing materials to me. But I don’t blame them because things are really hard. But this new era of facemask is gradually reviving my business. I sew facemasks in hundreds and distribute to vendors. People also contracts me,” she said.
Another resident of Port Harcourt, Angela Obi said since markets were shutdown, her husband, who deals on motor spare parts at the popular Ikokwu Market in Port Harcourt, has been out of business and it is her income from selling facemasks that sustains their family.
“I have a skill in sewing and I have a sewing machine. Since my husband no longer goes to market, I have to bring out my machine to sew facemasks. I buy the materials I use from a customer and after sewing, people come to buy in large quantities which they resell on a retail basis. This is what I do for now to help my family,” she said.
However, health experts have raised concerns over the safety standards of some of the facemasks that have flooded the market.
A medical personnel in one of the state government-owned hospitals told our reporter that some of the facemask being hawked on the streets may have been contaminated.
He expressed fears that some persons who intend to buy facemasks might put it on with the intention of trying them out.
“I saw a man who put on more than four facemasks from a vendor just to get his actual size,” he said. “What if this person has COVID-19, he might have contaminated the facemasks.”
While advising those that intend to buy facemask to always decontaminate it before use, he advised facemask tailors to always use cotton materials to avoid suffocation.
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