Making Masks and New Supply Chains: How Nest Artisan Guild is Building a Future for the Fashion Industry
COVID-19 played a part in breaking the retail supply chain that we have all become accustomed to. Customers could no longer buy, retailers could no longer sell, and many producers could no longer make.
A group of grant applicants surveyed (120 businesses from 31 countries) about their business’ experience during COVID-19 note that on average, 86% of businesses have experienced a stop or pause in production and 71% have had orders canceled–equating to an estimated loss of $5.5 million. This loss directly impacts the livelihoods of 21,480 artisans and associated staff, and is just a small percentage of Nest’s total artisan network of nearly 1,000 businesses across 100 countries. While global supply chains have halted to a standstill leaving no business exempt from these repercussions, these trends are likely affecting the majority of the Nest Artisan Guild. As Nest has worked with artisan businesses for the last 15 years, we know that the last link in the chain–the one so often overlooked–is also equipped to support the rest.
The businesses in Nest’s Artisan Guild are social enterprises and those pivoting to PPE production largely did so to outfit their communities with what they most needed. Nest’s PPE Purchasing Initiative reduces the financial burden and threat of unemployment for small businesses by financing the production (“purchasing”) of high quality and/or medical grade PPE to be donated to frontline workers in their local community or hotspot locations – eliminating the need for volunteer labor to produce it. Finding themselves in the new role of essential workers, these artisan businesses are working from home, in distributed networks, and/or retrofitting their workshops into safe headquarters from which to produce masks, procuring the necessary raw materials and training their workers in this new craft to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world.
“These artisans are doing skillful labor creating life-saving products” says Rachel Faller, the founder of Tonle´, and are often unappreciated, if not unseen, in the global supply chain. Yet artisan and maker businesses face difficulty accessing markets, resources and business development tools.
Brand support to change this has been outstanding–gifts of all sizes have come in to provide material and labor costs for the production of PPE. Etsy and Nest teamed up to work alongside seven maker and artisan businesses (1465 artisans) to supply masks. We are sending a total of 60,000 masks to be donated to public housing residents and frontline workers. The first wave of 40,000 masks produced went to five US hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio and New York City metro area.
As 62% of the businesses in the Nest artisan network work in textile or apparel production, and are therefore capable of the transition to mask production, brand collaborations like the one with Etsy are poised to provide direct support to a global workforce of 179,170 artisans.
In Guatemala, the opportunity to produce PPE provides much needed income and there is potential for scale. Artisan business La Casa says that, “Due to the current situation, there is almost no income to be earned on the local market, so the mask demand has been a godsend for this population. As demand increases, we can quickly ramp up the production due to the many qualified sewers in San Pedro. The sewers typically walk a block or two from their homes to a central workshop, and can return home for their meals or bring them to the workshop.”
In the US, Alabama Chanin had so much success with PPE production that they were able to bring back furloughed staff and were required to work with new manufacturers to produce both PPE and their regular assortment. “Within a week of launching the masks online, we were able to not only bring back our entire team but add additional team members from our community to the production and distribution of PPEs. As demand continued to grow, we realized that there was a profound need for masks across the nation, not only for individuals but for institutions and health-care providers in a range of positions. Because of the number of orders we’ve received and our daily production capacity at The Factory, we quickly partnered with two multi-generation family businesses that have committed to keeping manufacturing alive in the USA.”
Artisan businesses participating in the PPE Purchasing Initiative were able to recoup 40% of their production and 50% of their workforce through mask-making. Others who were unable to make the shift in production to PPE need interim support to get through this unprecedented time. Amazon, The Cordes Foundation and the Winn Family Foundation are stepping up with crucial funding support to bolster these businesses through the launch of Nest’s COVID-19 Relief Grants. Nest will provide Direct to Consumer Ecommerce Development, Digital Marketing & Sales Strategy and Product Financing to grant recipients. This will help Nest Guild members to generate essential revenue and minimize the risk of furloughing or laying off workers.
As you or your brand considers the future and the expectation that PPE will be a fixture in our lives, consider purchasing or sourcing your masks or merchandise assortment from artisan businesses. These are businesses that are well-equipped to handle decentralized production and rapid changes to their circumstances. They are nimble and flexible and rely on integrity and ingenuity to forge strong brand relationships. Nest’s years of experience providing capacity building and market access opportunities to these businesses has shown us that sourcing PPE will have a profound effect on moving the needle–creating stable income opportunities for those most in need to weather future storms.