25 May 2020

Sewing new solutions during Coronavirus

Following the revision of the Fairtrade Standard in March which allowed more flexibility in the use of Fairtrade Premium funds, Oserian, a flower producer based in Kenya, chose to begin manufacturing masks for its workers, their families, and members of the Oserian community. Using the farm’s social hall, the manufacturing effort is driven by a group of 36 tailors, 22 of whom are employees of the flower producer who had developed tailoring skills through short courses funded by the company’s Fairtrade Premium.


Given the decline of flower demand during this period, many workers had initially to go on leave, however, this new opportunity meant they could put acquired skills into use and meaningfully engage with their community.

“I trained as a tailor at the Kenya Institute of Development Studies. I thank Oserian so much for the measures they are taking to fight the COVID-19 menace. Making masks is a role that will see us protect our families and companies,” said Joyce Irungu, one of the tailors.

“It seemed like a hectic job, but I find myself enjoying it more. I’m happy to serve and help the nation fight coronavirus through my tailoring skills,” said Joseph Kakai who is also involved in the operation.

Oserian workshop 2

They add that manufacturing the masks is helping them improve their artistry skills and, more importantly, earn some income during these difficult times.

“Working here helps us earn a little income at this time. So, we are happy to be working here to at least help make masks and save the company,” said Ezekiel Onyango.

According to David Kamau, who is in charge of production, the project was initiated to cut down the cost of buying face masks. “On average, buying masks from the market is more expensive compared to manufacturing them locally. Ours only cost €0.27 cent per mask. That amounts to €1,733 for the 5,860 pieces we plan to produce,” he says.

According to Mr. Kamau, all the tailors are screened for COVID-19 symptoms at the farm’s health centre. Prior to the start of the operation, they received training to ensure production of high-quality masks meeting the standards set by the Ministry of Health. The masks are made from cotton tetron fabric which makes the outer layers of the triploid mask. This material can be worn and washed several times without wearing out. In addition, canvas has been placed between the outer and inner fabrics to act as a filter.

Wearing masks is one the strategies the producer is putting in place to control the spread of COVID-19. All workers, including their dependents and other members of the surrounding community, are receiving the masks for free. In addition, workers on duty have been provided with hand sanitizer for use within and outside the farm.

“We appreciate Fairtrade for being flexible. We are now able to make decisions faster especially in the management of COVID-19. This will also go a long way towards cushioning workers who may lose their income along the way due to the decline of the market,” said Julius Kigamba, Compliance Officer with Oserian. The company’s Fairtrade Premium Committee, which is no longer able to convene physical meetings due to social distancing regulations, has resorted to technology. Through WhatsApp forums the committee is engaging with workers on how the funds can best help them deal with the challenges that COVID-19 is bringing their way.