Due to our own unhappiness with the build, quality, price and availability of face masks, we decided to source and make our own. Products are not usually sold under the Kuthenga brand, thus our online store will not have any other products listed.
In a country with more than 50 million people, we asked ourselves how everyone could afford masks with our high rate of unemployment, increases in job losses and loss of income for many businesses and subsequently, individuals who are employed at these companies.
Whether friends and family purchased low-cost (R20 to R30) or the more pricey (R50 to R100 plus) masks, the feedback was often the same – masks were uncomfortable to wear, made it hard to breathe, caused heat and moisture to build-up, irritated the skin and did not fit properly, especially for those who wear reading or sunglasses where water vapour would escape and cause fogging.
At the start, we set two primary goals. First, get quality masks to market at a fair price and second, offer masks that align with government (and common sense) regulations.
The South African Government’s Recommended Guidelines for Fabric Face Masks, as published on 24 April 2020 include Base Performance Requirements which most other masks do not conform to. Here are the summarised points:
- The general public should refrain from using medical or N95 masks as these are in critical supply and should be reserved for healthcare workers.
- Fabric face masks do not replace the need to wash your hands, sanitise and practice social distancing. They are part of the broader solution.
- Wearing a mask may prevent an infected person from spreading the virus during talking, coughing or sneezing.
- The components that make-up masks should be sourced from local manufacturers, as far as possible.
- Masks should:
- be breathable.
- not be reversible.
- fit properly and be comfortable to wear.
- be easy to clean and disinfect at home.
- include instructions to explain how to wear and care for the mask.
- Tests have shown:
- that two layers of fabric will balance performance and comfort.
- that an increase in the number of layers will improve filtration but will decrease breathability.
- that three layers of fabric, with the middle being a non-woven (or similar) fabric, is recommended.
- Guidelines for fabric selection include:
- that the inner layer (touching face), should not irritate the skin, should not allow the build-up of moisture or excessive heat and should be of synthetic fibres with quick-drying properties, as cotton, poly-cotton or viscose can absorb high amounts of water, leading to a wet fabric against the skin and have the to potential to fluff, especially after washing.
- that a middle (filter) layer, should trap or stop particles 5 microns and larger, have a barrier efficiency of at least 75%, should not block more than 25% of airflow and should be replaceable.
While we sell to the general public, our hope is that businesses will see masks as a goodwill and marketing opportunity, purchasing masks not only for distribution to their staff and clients but for shelters and low-income communities too.