COVID-19-hit Tirupur garments cluster sees opportunity in PPEs, masks

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Published: April 22, 2020 12:45 AM

One of the main challenge is to procure the fabrics, as currently the movement of transportation is restricted. Departments like DRDO, Ordinance Factory should ensure them getting fabrics as desired, he said.

Currently 100 units are engaged in making PPEs, masks of different nature to meet state governments’ requirements. (Representative image)Currently 100 units are engaged in making PPEs, masks of different nature to meet state governments’ requirements. (Representative image)

Amid lack of export orders due to the COVID-19 lockdown globally, cancellation of some of the existing orders by major buyers in the US and Europe coupled with liquidity crisis, Tirupur’s knitwear/readymade garments cluster, the largest in India, sees huge opportunity in making PPEs (personal protective equipment) and face masks of different types, as its member units started getting huge orders from a number of state governments that are going through Coronavirus challenges.

Having decades-old experience and expertise in making garments for both domestic and export markets, the units have seized this emerging opportunity in not only capitalising on the domestic demand but also sees orders pouring in from the US and Europe once they are back to normal post the COVID-19 imbroglio.

“Though it is too early for us to quantify the size of orders and the revenue we generate over the a period of time, given the nature of the current calamity and the emergence of a ‘new normal’ across the globe, there seems to be billions of dollars opportunity emerging for us to tap in a big way,” said Tirupur Exporters’ Association (TEA) president Raja M Shanmugham.

“We are much competitive vis-a-vis China as we have the capacity and capability to make PPE kits at one-third of the cost. These PPE kits can be produced at a cost between Rs 200 and Rs 600 or little more (from ordinary to advanced kits) as compared to China’s Rs 1,500 a kit,” he said.

“Started with a small order from a local district in Tamil Nadu, the cluster is now getting increasing orders for both PPEs and masks from not only Tamil Nadu government but also from neighbouring states such as Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Kerala, and even now from Assam and Meghalaya governments to supply in lakhs of such units,” he said, adding the orders they are getting are through agents who won the biddings of respective state governments.

Speaking to FE, he said: “Currently 100 units are engaged in making PPEs, masks of different nature to meet state governments’ requirements. So far they have supplied over 2 million pieces of masks and 500,000 units of PPEs, which are given to healthcare workers, hospitals staff, surgeons/senior doctors, frontline workers apart from other people who are involved in fighting COVID-19 in their respective states. With more and more orders pouring in, we see more units getting into making these medical needs.” All these units are making ordinary face masks to N95 respirators to N95 user manual and complete disposable full-cover PPE kits, which are completely sterilised and with antimicrobial treatment. Fabrics used in making these kits ensure that the virus cannot penetrate.

“This is the finest moment for us as the COVID-19 pandemic gave an opportunity to enter into technical textiles in a big way as has been advised by the Union government, but also enabling us to earn additional income as we see demand for PPE kits, masks will be on the lines of garments as we have exported to global majors over the years. Our member units are getting enquiries from our buyers (including brands such as Marks & Spencer) from the US, Europe on supplying these medical kits. Since the government has banned export of these kits and masks, we are unable to tap at this point of time. We hope once exports been allowed, Tirupur units will see orders coming from across the globe,” Shanmugham pointed out. Since these kits can be used only for a few hours (as these are disposable in nature), orders for such kits will be in millions going forward, particularly from the overseas markets, he added.

To a question, he said: “All these PPEs and masks have been made of non-woven fabric of different nature — an ordinary non-woven fabric to three-layer fabric to laminated non-woven fabric to five-layer non-woven fabric material, which is approved by the government accredited national laboratory in Tirupur called – South India Textile Research Association (SITRA), one of the four labs in India — allowed to test the quality of fabrics used for making these kits by the government. These kits are certified by SITRA. Moreover, all these units have been given permission to make as PPEs, masks now come under essential commodities list.”

One of the main challenge is to procure the fabrics, as currently the movement of transportation is restricted. Departments like DRDO, Ordinance Factory should ensure them getting fabrics as desired, he said.

According to AA Rajkumar, managing director, Best Corporation, one of the garment units now engaged in making these medical items, said: “We have received a major order of 50,000 PPE kits from a public sector company, which has been asked by the union government to procure such kits. It is for high-end multi-layer PPE kits and we have started supply to them. In addition, we have been making kits and masks of different nature to Tamil Nadu government. We see huge potential from the global markets as we have received enquiries from our US and Europe customers. We are waiting for the government to allow export of such kits. Its not only a big opportunity for us but also enable us to get into technical textile segment in a big way.”

Says TD Bharani Daran, managing director, Shaaraa Clothing Company, “We have started off with 50 machines and has now increased to 100. We have supplied 25,000 PPE kits and 400,000 masks as of now since the demand for the same begun two weeks ago. We see demand for these kits will be that of garments as the world will undergo ‘new normal’ post COVID-19. Unlike earlier, every other department in the healthcare sector will start prescribing usage of these kits as a basic need going forward as fear psychosis caught the people globally. The demand for these kits could well become a permanent one, particularly from the buyers of the US and Europe.”

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