Tailors shift from sports apparel to PPE suits

MANILA, Philippines – A tailor shop in Quezon City that specializes in sports apparel has shifted to producing medical protective gear after a steady rise of COVID-19 cases in the country plagued health workers due to the lack of proper suits. 

Royal MNL owners Conrado and Mira Gicanal decided to produce reusable personal protective equipment (PPE) suits for frontliners in late March. By April, they found themselves manufacturing about 600 pieces of PPE suits along with their subcontractors every day. 

In a March 24 Facebook post, Mr. Gicanal posted images of the prototype version of their PPE suits made with taffeta with silver back lining fabric and pledged to donate 500 pieces to frontliners. Knowing that 500 PPE suits would not be enough, the couple initiated a donation drive that would cover the cost of production of the next batches of suits. 

In a little over a week, the donations have amounted to P136,000.

"March 21 o 22 I think, sinabihan ako ni wife na gawa kami ng PPE kasi nga marami ng nangangailangan. So by March 23, nakagawa na kami ng prototype,” Mr. Gicanal said. 

([On] March 21 or 22 I think, my wife told me that we start making PPE [suits] because many are in need. So by March 23, we have created a prototype.)

The Gicanals presented their sample to a doctor who then checked the reliability of their PPE suits. Once approved, the pair immediately started the mass production of suits. Mr. Gicanal added that they test their fabric with an autoclave machine for 20 minutes to ensure that their suits are water-repellant and safe for reuse. 

About 5,000 pieces of PPE suits have since been manufactured and distributed to hospitals within and outside Metro Manila. To cater to the increasing demand, Mr. Gicanal sought help from their fellows in the sublimation industry who are willing to make PPE suits. 

ENSURING QUALITY. The tailor shop tests their fabric with an autoclave machine to ensure that their suits are water-repellant and safe for reuse.

ENSURING QUALITY. The tailor shop tests their fabric with an autoclave machine to ensure that their suits are water-repellant and safe for reuse.

"Good thing naman may sumagot naman dun sa call ko. So right now, siguro mga tatlo o apat na kaming gumagawa sa industry namin tapos marami na ring sumunod na iba," he said.

(Good thing is there were people who answered my call. So right now, maybe there are three or four of us in the industry that make [PPE suits] and many others have followed)

Out of the 600 suits produced every day, about half of these are made by their two sub-contractors. 

Finding materials

While labor sourcing has not been a problem, finding the right material has become a challenge with most warehouses closed during the lockdown. The cost of taffeta fabric also grew from P38 per yard to P70-80. Mr. Gicanal fears that prices might continue to rise as the demand for taffeta fabric soars. 

He also noted that their shop has started receiving requests for cadaver bags as early as two weeks ago. 

“May nagrerequest na samin eh ayaw ni wife eh kasi nakakalungkot,” he said. “Dumarami yung call ng nagrerequest ng cadaver bags pero still, hindi kami gagawa kasi ang sabi namin, gumawa kami para maka-save diba?”

 (There have been requests but my wife doesn’t want to because it’s disheartening. The call for requests of cadaver bags increases but still, we won’t manufacture because as we said, we create to save lives right?)

FINAL PRODUCT. A tailor holds a newly sewn PPE suit.

FINAL PRODUCT. A tailor holds a newly sewn PPE suit.

The pair plans to produce booties to provide additional protection for health workers.

And while the Gicanals would like to continue serving the needs of frontliners, Mr. Gicanal hopes they would have to stop soon. 

"Well may halong tuwa tsaka lungkot. Kasi, tuwa, in the sense na nakakatulong, lungkot kasi habang dumarami ‘yung order, ibig sabihin dumarami din 'yung mga infected ng coronavirus," he said. 

(Well there is a mix of gladness and sadness. Gladness in the sense that we can help, sadness because the orders continue to rise which means the number of people infected with coronavirus increases too.)

Several fashion designers and tailor shop owners have extended their help to combat the lack of PPE suits of health workers. An open-source pattern approved by experts was made available for download here. – Rappler.com