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Businesses now coining it differently amidst Covid-19 crisis

Matthews Baloyi has transitioned from running an events company to manufacturing and selling face masks in just two months.

In March, when Baloyi's events business, Nippy Avenue Events, faced uncertainty with no income for him and his six workers facing the chop due to the national lockdown, he had to rethink his future.

As coronavirus spread across the country and face masks became the sought-after products, Baloyi got down to work.

He joined small business owners in Soweto in a frantic race to meet the burgeoning demand for face masks by consumers who want to limit exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Baloyi's business output has multiplied since the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week that one of level 4 lockdown measures is the wearing of a face mask in public places.

Baloyi has transformed his garage at his home in Protea Glen, Soweto, into a mini factory, producing more than a hundred fabric masks a day.

According to Baloyi, it takes approximately seven minutes to make one cloth mask and he produces 150 of them a day.

He employs six workers who all share work from knitting to cutting and measuring sizes of different masks.

Baloyi is among a myriad of township entrepreneurs who seized the opportunity brought by lockdown measures.

"We have a database of clients because we are professional event suppliers and this made it easier to access the market through them.

"We know what sort of fabrics are needed and we know where to get them. So, we are using the same approach for this business," Baloyi said.

The prices for his masks range between R25 and R50.

"When the fabric arrives we have a department that marks out what needs to be cut. Then we have two cutters who will make sure that the right sizes are cut out. We use a fabric called propylene, which is placed between the two layers of fabric to ensure the masks meet government's regulation standard. Then two guys will stitch them up and another person will add the elastic head band while the final process consists of touch-ups."

Baloyi said he has sold over 4,000 masks along with his business partner, the bulk of which have been sold to corporate companies.

While some entrepreneurs have access to corporate clients, others have had to take the bull by its horns and sell their products themselves.

Neo Mofokeng, who runs a fashion sewing business out of his garage in Dlamini, said he has shifted his focus from sewing garments for traditional events to producing facial masks and selling them.

Standing at the entrance of Maponya Mall in Soweto, Mofokeng sells his own products to customers who have been turned away from the mall for not having a mask on.

"I sell my masks for R35 and R45. The pricing is different based on the design. I have special orders for families that want to have theirs designed with a specific fabric or design.

"But from what I have gathered, the pricing for masks ranges from R20 to around R80 in Soweto," he said.

A trader at Bara Mall, Bonginkosi Lamati, said he usually sells cellphone chargers and electronic devices but he had to reimagine how he could make a living differently.

He said he ordered his masks in bulk from a supplier.

"I took money that I put aside from the other business and bought a stock of masks because I don't know how long this situation will last.

"I saw there is a need for masks because the government said people should wear them when they go outside. So, I decided to sell the masks," Lamati said.

The face mask has also become a new fashion accessory with certain designs targeting the trendy set who want to stand out.

And in true South African style, there are masks with well-known brands. Some masks sport logos of big fashion labels such as Louis Vuitton, while others have popular sports brands' trademark.

The aim is the same - to chase the top dollar!

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