How women in Manipur sew face masks to save their families and survive the Covid pandemic

Among the new face mask producers in Manipur, majority of them are women and earning members of their families.



Face mask has become an indispensable part of the new normal life with the onset of COVID-19 pandemic the world over. With the rapidly increasing number of the widespread Covid-19 infections, the demand too is growing. Its supply that was limited and often out of stock in the initial stage of the pandemic has increased with more people taking to producing reusable masks of all sizes and designs and for all age groups. Apart from its essential aspect, masks are fast catching up as trendy wear and some are using it as a fashion statement with fancy prints and colours to match with their clothes. In view of the necessity and growing demand, in Manipur too, many are taking to sewing face masks as a source of earning and to help tide the Covid crisis.

Among the new face mask producers in Manipur, majority of them are women and earning members of their families. Some of them are government employees, teachers, vendors and homemakers. What started out as an attempt to protect their children and other family members from contracting the Coronavirus infection became a source of earning for most of them. Most of them say they started making face masks in view of the short supply in the initial stage and non-availability of small size masks for children, and soon became a new source of earning to support their families. They produce about 20-100 masks in a single day and could earn around Rs 10,000-30,000 in a month depending on the demand.

When this Imphal Free Press reporter interacted with a few women in Imphal valley, Haingaikim Singson from New Lambulane, Imphal, who is a teacher in a private school, said that she started making masks, including small ones for her children, since small size masks were not available in the market and people were afraid to go out to buy masks. Sometimes, the supply in the market would run out of stock. Making 20 to 25 masks in a day, she has sold around 900 pieces of masks in and outside the state, she said.

“As a teacher of a private school, I did not receive my salary for the lockdown period. Making masks and earning a little income is the least I could do to support my family,” she added.

Another mask maker, a widow from Guigailong Ward No.2, Tamenglong district, RK Guijunliu, who is a vegetable seller, started making masks way back in March. “I started making masks because all the family members needed it but there were no masks in the shop available at that time,” she said. Producing about 30 masks a day from cotton cloths, Guijunliu has sold about 3,000 pieces of masks and earned around Rs 30,000 so far.

In search of reusable masks for her family members, Pebam Minerva Chanu from Lamboikhongnangkhong, Imphal West began sewing cotton masks to meet the needs of her family, “I started making cotton masks in May because it can be reusable unlike the surgical mask. People prefer the cotton mask since many people who could not afford to buy surgical masks frequently can use the cotton mask, wash it and reuse it”.

At the initial stage, Minerva sold masks among her friend circles and people in her locality. She then expanded her reach by selling her products in social media with the help of her children. She has sold above 500 pieces of mask with prices ranging from Rs 30 to Rs 50 a piece since May till date.

Another woman Potshangbam Rebika Devi, from Haobam Marak Irom leikai is a sericulturist and has been making three-layered facemasks since July. Rebika said that she started to sew different kinds of cotton masks for her family members, but later started selling them as the demand grew. Rebika also informed that she got positive feedback from users that the masks are comfortable to wear.  After receiving positive feedback from people, Rebika decided to sell the mask for Rs 50 keeping in mind the people who could not afford stylish masks available online for around Rs 300. She said it takes about 15-20 minutes to make a single mask and has sold about 1,000 masks so far and donated around 60 masks for a battalion of Assam Rifles, Chingmeirong.

When asked about the safety aspect of the masks, Rebika said, “We have to wash the masks regularly so that it stays clean. It is three layered, so it is definitely safer than thin masks.” The masks are designed for all ages and for different facial structures, she said, adding that she will continue to make the masks as long as they are needed.

All the mask producers faced the problem of getting raw materials for making the masks amid the pandemic lockdown and containment measures. They said there were times when they could not meet the demands due to limited manpower and unavailability of raw material due to the lockdown. But now that the market has opened, they look forward to increasing their product supplies.

First Published:Oct. 18, 2020, 2:50 p.m.

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