By Pujanee Galappaththi
With Covid-19 putting a pause on the exalted fashion industry, Selyn, one of Sri Lanka’s top handicraft retail brands, was posed with a challenging choice of either laying off their employees and starting fresh post the coronavirus crisis or to ride the pandemic wave and figure out a way to make it work.
It was with the warmest sentiments in heart that Selyn Director of Business Development Selyna Peiris told The Sunday Morning Brunch that they picked the latter and retained their employees, while temporally parting ways with luxury fashion.
Selyn took the opportunity to produce non-medical fabric facemasks, aka the #PeoplesMask, following Fair Trade standards as well as World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations, together with the global initiative by the World Fair Trade Organisation Asia (WFTO Asia) to help end Covid-19. This in fact propelled their business in a new direction and has made it possible for them to keep over 300-plus direct staff on their payroll and further give work to their extended network of home-working groups.
Speaking of this new direction in their business, Peiris stated: “Since mid-March, our export orders started getting cancelled or delayed at a steady rate, and when the islandwide lockdown was imposed, our retail shops couldn’t function and we found ourselves in a zero-income situation quite fast. Things were not looking good; we were struggling to pay the March salaries and thinking of April was daunting. Even more daunting was thinking of when the demand for a luxury fashion and lifestyle brand would pick up – the estimate was not at least for another six months.
“At this stage, we realised that our relationship with our staff goes beyond an ID card and that they depend on Selyn for their livelihoods, and thus came to a management decision that we would not let go of any employee. So we had to come up with a way to cover our costs, protect our capital reserves, and stay in business very quickly. The opportunity came in the form of #PeoplesMask and we jumped on it.”
The #PeoplesMask is designed to serve and protect the health of non-medical frontline personnel such as grocery store workers, public transport drivers, government workers, social workers, community development workers, essential private sector workers, peace and order personnel, trash collectors, food workers, farmers, artisans, etc. The mask is available on the Selyn website for the price of Rs. 150 each and Rs. 450 for a pack of three. Peiris told us that they may be able to make it available on other sites as well in the near future as the production process has now been outsourced.
The #PeoplesMask is produced based on the HK mask design, a laboratory-tested system using fabric masks and filters coupled with proper washing and sanitation. The HK mask, unlike a DIY (do it yourself) mask, has two layers of fabric and a pocket in between to add a filter with filtration efficiency close to that of an N70 mask. A simple kitchen towel or tissue paper can be used as a filter in this regard.
While both the HK mask design and Selyn fabrics are tested and proved to be non-toxic (AZO free, PCP tested) to be in close proximity to your face, we were told that the Selyn team is currently working on steps to test the Selyn fabric HK mask as they feel this will certainly add value to the product.
Finally, we asked Peiris to share a few words of wisdom for other local businesses that are struggling during this time to pick up and strive ahead, to which she said: “The best thing to do in a time like this is to not be scared and to have the mindset that there is always something to do if we open our minds and do not consider quitting an option. Products made by ethical and sustainable SMEs will definitely be in demand by the post-Covid-19 customer. We should use this time to prepare for this demand, including working on our product to match post-Covid-19 trends and needs, working on our supply chains and pricing, and ensuring quality matches in the possible high-volume orders that may come in.”