Masks off: small businesses stop production of means of protection

Small garment factories turned out uncompetitive compared to mass machine production

Small garment factories that appeared during the quarantine began to stop the production of reusable protective masks. According to the Tatarstan Ministry of Industry and Trade, over 70 small companies that managed to sew several millions of masks participated in the fight against their deficit in the republic. However, the anti-coronacrisis strategy almost put them at loggerheads with large businesses. Industrialists complained the regulator about a high price of craftsmen’s masks, while the latter denied the complaints saying that manual sewing can’t be cheap. Realnoe Vremya found out how the rapid tide of the mask business came in and went out.

Coronavirus demand disappeared as quickly as it appeared

With the cancellation of strict quarantine restrictions, Tatarstan manufacturers began to gradually stop the production of protective masks, which became the main anti-coronacrisis strategy for many.

Realnoe Vremya was told in BARSSPORT sportswear factory, SV-Spetsodezhda LLC, Alsu hosiery factory from Almetyevsk as well as different sole traders about the end of mask production.

At the height of the pandemic, every Kazan factory produced over 100,000 reusable masks. “The crazy coronavirus demand for protective masks collapsed as fast as it rose,” the entrepreneurs explain. “The demand fell to zero, we can say,” representative of Alsu factory Aleksey Dubovik claimed.

“What’s the point in sewing if there are automated lines with the prime cost of 2 rubles per item,” explains self-employed seamstress Albina Ganiyeva who had sewed about 7,000 masks during two months of the coronavirus spring. It is obvious: the unseen buzz around hygiene means disappeared, while manual sewing costs ten times more expensive than automated.

According to the Tatarstan Ministry of Industry and Trade, nowadays about 8 million masks a month are made in the republic, most of them meet the needs of industrial enterprises of the republic and are sold in pharmacies and chain stores of the republic. About 80 industrial enterprises, including subsidiaries of TAIF, Tatneft and KAMAZ, launched the production of reusable masks. Their total capacity is around 310,000 masks a day. More than 3,5 million masks have been made due to this from late March until now.

So the republic built industrial mask production lines from scratch garment factories can’t compete with. First of all, in terms of price. According to seamstresses themselves, the price of one mask is many times higher than the one made on a specialised line, this is why there is no sense in fighting for the heated market without corresponding equipment. Manufacturers say they return to previous clothes production. “We have a lot of contracts to make special clothes now, though we are ready to ship masks on request,” Director General of SV-Spetsodezhda LLC Yegor Bashkov told Realnoe Vremya (he made over 107,000 reusable masks during the high season).

Machine tools from Celestial Kingdom

A huge shortage of means of protection in the republic disappeared in April after Ruslan An-124 special cargo plane delivered mask machine tools and 6 million masks from China. As the press service of the Ministry of Industry and Trade said, during the work on the fight against the coronavirus infection, it became possible to launch capacities to make means of individual protection. “There were delivered 6 lines to make single-use protective masks to the republic on 10 April thanks to the support of Tatneft PJSC. It took TAIF GC specialists just a day to start up and commission the equipment and launch production after the equipment arrived.

We should remind you that Polymatiz company makes medical masks. Nizhnekamskneftekhim purchased an automated line. During the pandemic, the company increased the production of nonwoven fabric for means of individual protection, surgical coats and hazmat suits ten times. “The company ordered and sewed 6,500 anti-plague suits for the employees of Nizhnekamsk medical institutions. Our medical professionals are working in a protected environment. They are working calmly and treating people,” said Aide to Director General in Municipal Affairs at Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC Elvira Dolotkazina.

Seven enterprises of Tatarstan purchased 8 production lines to make single-use masks. Sole traders also organised the production of single-use masks with the equipment they made themselves. After all lines were launched, the total production capacity of single-use masks already rose to 15 million masks a month.

Instead of 7 rubles in pharmacies, enterprises had to pay from 35 to 45 rubles

However, it became possible to launch these lines only after federal authorities decided that it wasn’t compulsory to obtain a licence to make medical masks during the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. They were permitted to make and sell the masks according to technical criteria in pharmacies. For this purpose, they just have to send a request to the Ministry of Industry and Trade and receive the technical criteria from there. Both large and small manufacturers worked according to this scheme.

Before large companies joined the production, the price of one mask enterprises purchased it for was very expensive. Instead of 7 rubles per mask like before the coronavirus, commercial and industrial enterprises had to pay from 35 to 45 rubles.

“KMPO JSC faced a big deficit of nonwoven single-use medical masks at the beginning of the mask regime,” says Chief Engineer in Life Sustainability of the enterprise Aydar Zagretdinov says. “Cooperation with garment companies that began to sew reusable masks became a solution to the problem. It should be noted that with time the number of such companies increased, which influenced the purchasing price — it reduced.”

KMPO still continues purchasing means of protection. Factory workers are fully provided with protective masks, disinfectants, shops and departments have elbow dispensers to wash their hands, there is disinfection indoors.

“Kazan Helicopters purchased masks, gloves and antiseptics in several organisations,” the press service of the company said. “There were organised purchases according to regulative documents. There weren’t problems with the supply of the staff with means of individual protection. Before purchasing single-use masks, the workers were provided with masks made in the factory. Nowadays all employees are fully provided with means of individual protection. The enterprise has reserves till the end of June, moreover, it is regularly stocked up when needed.”

We’re said: “What a cheek!”

“Masks aren’t a good to talk about profit,” says representative of Alsu hosiery factory from Almetyevsk Aleksey Dubovik. The famous Russian manufacturer of socks stopped sewing masks as early as in May. The factor is back to its previous operation rhythm, though not completely.

“Mask is unprofitable for us, though our clients were surprised when we told them a mask cost 50 rubles. They said: ‘What a cheek!’. Firstly, we used other fabric, which is many times more expensive than spanbond (Editor’s Note: fabric for medical goods). Secondly, our seamstresses work manually. A mask for 7 rubles is made on an automated line, not in the sewing shop. This is why we made masks only on request. We didn’t sew them to sell or store in the warehouse. During self-isolation, the sewing shop switched to its production, this is why we didn’t have big costs. We began making masks not to stay idle.”

However, Aleksey Dubovik didn’t name how many masks Alsu sewed.

Non-stop to stay in shape

“We sewed about 100,000 masks during the three months of the coronavirus spring,” says Emil Sirazyev, a co-founder of BARSSPORT sportswear factory. “At the height of the deficit, we provided workers of big chains of grocery stores Lenta, Magnit and Tatneft petrol stations with them. They didn’t stop working even for a day, this is why the demand for masks was stable. We regularly shipped masks for Kazan Helicopters. Due to the cancellation of compulsory mask and gloves wearing outdoors since June (except in shops), we are stopping their production,” he said and added that mask sewing couldn’t be called profitable but it helped to soften the blow of economic consequences of self-isolation.

“We faced restrictions much earlier than others did,” Siraziyev goes on. “Sports tournaments and championships were cancelled long before the announcement about the transition to the non-working week. Our clients were in quarantine in March — 2-3 weeks before the landmark speech of the country’s president. We understood then that if we didn’t make up how to survive these times, we would have to close the production and lay off the people. The idea to start sewing masks came to our mind almost immediately. And it was a coincidence that we turned out more prepared when the Tatarstan Ministry of Industry and Trade began to collect applications from local producers. Moreover, we managed to readjust the technology, developed our own pattern according to the technical criteria. The mask is peculiar because it has pockets for replaceable filters with antiseptic. We managed to wear the test model for a couple of days, improved something and launched mass production. But we didn’t have guaranteed orders. How to sell? Here the Tatarstan Ministry of Industry and Trade helped. They published information about all producers on their website, afterwards, we began receiving calls. We didn’t carry big costs to repurpose the production, neither did we have big incomes. Sales revenue of masks helped us just to pay the staff and a little for rent.”

They go to M-7 Highway to buy cords

However, sole traders and self-employed people who could reduce the price were in a more favourable situation. They agreed to sell masks to wholesale clients and enterprises for 35-40 rubles per mask. Seamstress Albina Gainyeva who supplied women’s clothes to wear at home to Wildberries turned out in the vortex of the mask business accidentally.

“At the height of self-isolation, I announced free 2,000 masks for all people on my Instagram account,” she said. “Then something terrible happened near the Republican Clinical Hospital: resellers sold doctors the masks for from 250 to 500 rubles. While my children had an appointment with otolaryngologists in the Children’s Republican Clinical Hospital. They complained they didn’t have means of protection. Then I sewed and handed the masks over to them. Then I thought that I could make more with the rest and cuts. So it once wholesale clients and enterprises found me. In the end, I have sewed about 7,000 masks.”

The high price of 35-40 rubles per mark was reasonable during self-isolation, thinks Albina Ganiyeva. Textile shops were closed. Where should one find fabric? She had to go the M-7 Highway where a lorry arrived at a certain time that was sold out in four hours. Seamstress arrived secretly as if they were buying drugs. I think fabric suppliers increased prices. And of course, manual labour is more expensive than machine production.

Large businesses remain in masks

Meanwhile, large enterprises didn’t feel a shortage of fabric.

As the Tatarstan Ministry of Industry and Trade said, two enterprises making nonwoven fabric operate in the republic: Polymatiz JSC and Elastic LLC. Their total capacity is about 1,500 tonnes a month. “Due to the current situation, the enterprises increased the production of nonwoven fabric for medical goods almost 2,5 times from 524 tonnes to 1,200 tonnes. Polymatiz JSC has tripled the production volume of nonwoven fabric for medical goods since February — from 224 tonnes to 600 tonnes a month. Elastic Factory LLC doubled the production of nonwoven fabric for medical goods, from 300 tonnes in February to 600 tonnes in April,” the ministry’s press service said. Moreover, over 300,000 hazmat suits have been made since April.

“So the enterprises can meet the needs of both the population and health care and public establishments of the republic for means of individual protection,” the ministry concluded.

18 Tatarstan enterprises can make disinfectants, hand gels and antiseptics.

Also, 18 Tatarstan enterprises can make disinfectants, hand gels and antiseptics.

Aromat JSC is the main manufacturer of the hand gel. The enterprise increased the production from 58,000 bottles a day to a million bottles in late April since March 2020, that’s to say, 17 times.

The production of disinfectant was also arranged at Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC (the certificate on registration is created), Kazan State Treasury Powder Plant, which obtained a declaration on compliance with safety requirements of perfume and cosmetic products for a hand lotion, and at TANECO JSC oil refinery.

By Luiza Ignatyeva