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PPE ‘Necessity is the mother of Invention’

Published on April 21, 2020

How would a 1940’s clothing manufacturer deal with the challenge of PPE- with the resources we have in the UK today?

This is not the time to criticise our poor choices on opting for cheaper imports over investment in UK manufacturing, or the need for apprenticeships with sustainable skills in Textile Product Design NOT more Fashion Designers.

If you want to have that conversation Sir James Dyson articulates this argument better than me in his visionary 2004 Dimbleby Lecture.

As a Textile Product designer my greatest teacher was my mum who taught me everything I know about textiles but more importantly how ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’. 

In the 1970’s before the days of Primark me and my sisters were dressed in the clothes that my mother made, as my mum and dad put their resources into securing our future and building the family business. 

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If many entrepreneurs and manufacturers of the 1940’s were alive today they would be bewildered by our lack of initiative to take matters into our own hands rather than waiting for promised PPE supplies from abroad to turn up on time.

PPE garments are not like ventilators which require multiple components and a specialised degree in engineering. Without over simplifying things, we need:

  • A clean room environment.
  • Sewing machines- domestic or industrial. (Seal-tape machines).
  • Semi-skilled machinists.
  • Basic raw materials; threads elastic, fabric.
  • Laundry process before distribution if necessary. 

Take one initiative alone i.e. something as simple as face-masks – creating non-certified masks for the General Public ensures certified PPE Face Masks are prioritised for the NHS and most vulnerable members of society. (Research and article on certified & non certified products to follow).

As someone experienced in handling tight time constraints in producing textile prototypes and dealing with supply chain issues such as a 3 month delay on components from China, you have to get CREATIVE!

This is one of my product’s prototyped from a waterproof jacket, blanket, clothes line- cheaper & faster than sourcing materials from China.

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Over the past 2 weeks I have created over 30 prototype designs, and finalised two effective designs for face-masks for both adults and children from my studio. These are reusable non-certified face-masks with reusable filters (currently prototyping babies hat with visor). 

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Every component is sitting in abundant supplies on the shelves of open stores such as Asda, Poundland, Home Bargains etc. This doesn’t include the multiple stores such as The Range, Argos, Dunhelm who have unused trimmings, cottons normally used for bedding or interiors stock piled on their shelves as they sit closed. With the exception of filters which I have been able to resource using traditional domestic household filters.

I can only count in one hand the clothing manufacturers left in North Lanarkshire and like many areas of the UK their skilled labour is probably now over the age of 45 years old. 

We need to be asking;

Why are we not connecting textile manufacturers with experts in medical products? W.L.Gore both textile & medical experts, Chairman Green Cross Training Ltd Scottish Entrepreneur, Gio Benedetti (Founder-Wallace Cameron- Product Designers & suppliers of medical products)

Why are we not co-ordinating a Government led manufacturing initiative?

Why are we not recalling materials, fabrics and trimmings from retailers? 

Why are we not collaborating taking action to manufacture our own PPE?

If you read anything this week please read Sir James Dyson’s Dimbleby Lecture 2004

Next article research on Non-certified PPE face masks Pro’s & Con’s.