Spinning a new yarn

srekumaar Work in progress: Defend and Protecht masks being made at Sreekumaar Texind Corporation in Chennai

When India went into the first phase of the Covid-19 lockdown in March, a pall of gloom descended on Tiruppur, the knitwear capital of India, which was already suffering from the aftershocks of demonetisation and the implementation of the goods and services tax. But it soon found an opportunity in the crisis, by focusing on technical textiles such as face masks, personal protective equipment (PPE) and coveralls.

“Initially we produced it for the district’s requirement [following a request from the district collector]. Now we are supplying across the country,” said Raja M. Shanmugam, president of the Tiruppur Exporters Association. Nearly 150 factories now roll out a million pieces a day.

“We have got bulk orders for 20 lakh fabric masks, which can be reused. These are different from surgical masks. We have also designed affordable and reusable two-layer masks for the general public,” said K.G. Ganeshan, partner of Swell Knit, a textile unit.

PPE for doctors and frontline workers is also in demand, said Gopinath Bala of SVS Advanced Fabrics. “We have launched a fabric for coveralls, cubicle partition fabrics that can be used in hospitals and coveralls with breathable fabric for doctors and nurses,” he said. It manufactures five types of coveralls and surgical gowns that are antimicrobial and antiviral and can be subject to multiple industrial wash cycles. “Bulk orders will come once the government allows exports,” said Gopinath.

Chennai-based initiative Defend and Protecht have come up with masks capable of neutralising viruses. “Our HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03 is among the first textile technologies in the world to be proven effective against Covid-19,” said Bharat of Emcee Apparels, a member of the initiative. The fabric comes from Taiwan and the chemicals to neutralise the virus are from Switzerland. The three-layer mask is self-sanitising, reusable, breathable and hypoallergenic.

“Textile industry is our biggest job creation platform,” said Prabhu Dhamodaran, convener of the Indian Texpreneurs Federation. “With the world looking for products from outside China, I feel we should look into diversifying our products and ensuring cost competitiveness.”