Apparel To Mask Transition

Apparel to Masks, A Temporary Transition?

At a Glance:

1.  Research shows that the CAGR of protective face mask market would increase by 10.8% by 2027.

2. Manufacturers are transitioning from apparel to protective gear production partly due to surge in demand and partly due to marketing outreach.

3. However, transitioning from apparel to mask production requires retooling and re-planning which costs a lot in some cases.

4. Thus, the question arises whether manufacturers will transition temporarily from apparel to masks or the they will focus on a more permanent shift ?

Covid-19 has led to an increase in demand for protective gear like gloves, hair caps, face shields, gowns, and of course, masks for general people as well as frontline health professionals. At the same time, clothing manufacturers see a drop in orders for traditional apparel of all kinds.

This situation presents an opportunity on one hand and a threat on the other, since many factories around the world are not operational. A substantial number of jobs are at risk as sewing machines are idle and production is halted. 

In this dire time, some manufacturers have decided to shift away from producing apparel goods for the time being and focus on manufacturing masks and protective gear on a mass level. 

Following up, multiple questions arise, for example, what were the reasons behind this shift? Was this shift for societal causes or were there any personal gain for the organization? Furhtermore, is this transition temporary or a permanent one, and if so, what are the causes behind it?

Let us scrutinize this notion and find out some of the reasons why manufacturers are transitioning from apparel to masks. 

Surge in Demand : 

Obviously, the most crucial reason for which manufacturers are transitioning to producing protective gear is the unprecedented increase in demand. The pandemic demanded a surge of almost $100 million in the protective face mask market by the end of 2020.

On the other hand, the pandemic has also pushed people re-learn shopping, and everyone is adjusting to being satisfied with less while focusing more on necessary goods. Less shopping is causing employees to lose jobs and close shops. Closed shops ultimately are impacting the apparel industry in a negative tone.

An estimated 2.1 million jobs were affected by COVID-19 as sales decreased, and reliance upon health materials increased. 

This change in the fashion ecosystem and the massive surge in demand for protective gear has prompted many manufacturers to transition to mass production of masks and related accessories.

Moreover, increased demand for masks also motivated already established protective clothing manufacturers like Kappler, Inc. to expand their facilities. The company said in a meeting that “We are currently swamped with demand due to the coronavirus situation.”  

As a considerable level of demand was being met by major protective gear manufacturers like Kappler, Inc, clothing manufacturers who recently transitioned to masks and protective gear were pushed to their competitive edge. On the one hand, their reliability was in question and on another hand, they were facing massive levels of competition from the market, which made it necessary for them to strategize creatively. 

These newly transitioned manufacturers responded to the crisis by forming a coalition who worked together to tackle the problem. Working together gave them a huge advantage in different facets like sourcing, planning, producing, etc.

Marketing Outreach: 

Marketing Outreach

Manufacturers are having marketing outreach due to transitioning from apparel to mask production

Tyler Merritt, an Army veteran and CEO of Nine Line Apparel, said, “it’s time to cut through the red tape to get supplies to doctors and nurses.” He had stopped all apparel production and focused his manufacturing caliber on protective gears like HHS certified medical face masks and gowns. 

Like him, many other manufacturers have altered their focus on protective gear. They are being hailed as heroes now, and their respective governments are assisting them in every way possible.

Interestingly, some manufacturers and retailers are using this situation as a means of outreach as well. The strategy is to engage people as much as possible during this time of pandemic and focus on sales after the apparel market becomes stable. 

But this approach has a threat too. Cancellation of apparel production and increasing the production of masks has significantly affected the global clothing manufacturing industry since masks and protective gear have a low-profit margin. For instance, Gildan Activewear has seen almost a 26 percent drop in sales in Q1 of 2020. Their stock price has also decreased by 49 percent in that period. 

The question remains whether this marketing outreach strategy would make up for all the opportunity cost which clothing manufacturers are risking or will this remain a necessary cost for the betterment of human society.

Retooling Caliber: 

Covid-19 has changed the fashion ecosystem drastically. Many organizations are transitioning to protective gear production but switching production from apparel to masks and gowns is easier said than done. 

For instance, to produce N95 masks and medical-grade gowns, manufacturers first need to take necessary certifications and follow government health requirements. Following, they have to facilitate new sewing patterns that add to their already massive fixed cost. They also have to change their floor layout for better synchronizing mask production.   

For some products, such as N95 masks, even installation of new production equipment is required. Moreover, employee training to facilitate that production equipment becomes necessary afterward since a certain grade of understanding of quality standards is essential amongst it’s operators.

Not only is it challenging for manufacturers to shift to production of PPE, it is also coupled with challenges like export restrictions, sourcing difficulty, lab approval etc. 

After all this effort, it is highly likely that immediately after the Covid-19 situation has been brought under control; these equipment will be left nonoperational as manufacturers will again start producing apparel.

But, if manufacturers permanently shift to producing masks and protective gear, they will have to deal with severe competition and deficient demand in the future. As a result, opportunity cost will increase, and efficiency will decrease.

Re-Tooling for Mask Production

Manufacturers are Re-Tooling their Organizations for Mask Production

Thus, the burning question, whether a temporary transition or a permanent shift? Tyler Merritt, CEO of Nine Line Apparel, says it will definitely be temporary, but organizations like Gildan Activewear are thinking of a more permanent shift towards protective gear production.

Both sides have different strategic reasons for supporting their decision. In a new fashion ecosystem, people will focus more on necessary clothing and prioritize sustainable apparel goods. In contrast, it is also possible that the demand for masks and medical gowns will decrease as mass usage of these goods will decline.

Which of these decisions is more prudent, you ask? Only time will tell.