An industrious army of Saudi businesses and enterprising individuals has got the Kingdom’s booming new market for cloth face masks all sewn up.
Since wearing masks in public areas and workplaces became mandatory in the country on May 30 as part of measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), demand for the face gear has rocketed.
And the situation has provided opportunities for online stores, small businesses, families, and individuals to manufacture and sell the masks.
The Ministry of Interior has introduced fines of up to SR1,000 ($266) for people failing to wear face masks in public places and penalties of SR10,000 ($2,666) for workplaces breaching the new COVID-19 rules and precautions.
At the end of last month, the Ministry of Health announced that citizens should wear a cloth face mask “at all times” when leaving the house and in public places, and provided detailed online video and written instructions on how to make them at home and the types of fabric to use.
“During this time, especially for those that need to leave the house, the nose and mouth must be covered. This can be done with a cloth mask to limit the chances of the spread of saliva to others, and vice versa,” said the ministry’s spokesman, Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly.
“However, social distancing, washing one’s hands and washing them well, avoiding touching one’s face, and staying away from social gatherings of any kind is still crucial.
Our safety lies in adhering to all of the necessary preventive measures,” he added.
Using the ministry’s instructions, YouTube videos, written tutorials, and other sources, many Saudi business owners, productive families, and amateur sewing enthusiasts have set up their own mask production lines.
Tulay Emel Cagatay, the founder of Tulaila’s Academy, a sewing business based in Jeddah and Riyadh that offers lessons to children and adults interested in learning the craft, has switched her focus from making bags and plush toys to concentrate on creating face masks.
“At the beginning of the pandemic I donated over 200 masks, however when it became mandatory to wear the masks my family and friends asked to buy them from me since they wanted large quantities,” she said.
On the academy’s Instagram page, Cagatay has shared a tutorial on how to make a cloth mask in less than 10 minutes.
“I encourage all people to make homemade masks if they are capable of sewing. For the most part people have the basic materials to make a mask right now. Wearing a homemade mask alone will not guarantee protection against COVID-19, but its effectiveness is better when combined with a filter and basic safety precautions, such as regular hand-washing and social distancing,” she added.
“People need to ensure the space they are using to make their masks is clean and disinfected, they must use 100 percent cotton fabric, and try to make a pocket in order to put filters in the mask for more protection.
“I’ve had a lot of positive feedback and received pictures from random strangers, in addition to children that I have taught sewing to, of the masks they made for their families. It brings me joy knowing I have helped in some way,” Cagatay said.
Hessah Al-Hudaithy, a financial adviser who makes clothes in her spare time, told Arab News that she had been “overwhelmed” with requests from friends and family for her home-produced masks.
“I made a couple of masks out of spare fabric at first just to see if I could. It turned out a bit easier than expected and it was a good way to use small pieces of cute fabrics that would otherwise have gone to scrap,” she said.
To date she has made 30 but is considering making more for sale.
“I want to give back to the community and help keep people safe, but there’s many things to consider. Getting materials delivered, but also getting the finished products delivered to buyers. I also want to learn how to properly sanitize my space. But it is definitely something I’m considering,” she said.