Educationist and designer Shruti Sancheti built her label by resolutely working to revive near- extinct weaves — when ethical fashion wasn't a buzz word. Till date, she has stayed true to her vision of making indigenous weaves desirable to a global audience. I always admired the way she is a quiet ambassador of textile craft, employing rural craftspeople whose handwork is native to a particular region. So when I heard she was making masks to help people on the frontline in addition to surgical and patient gowns for hospitals, I reached out. In conversation with the designer.


''The world is facing an unanticipated crisis and is in a state of uncertainty and gloom.With the rising cases of Covid 19 world wide, it is a matter of grave concern and distress. Although our country is faring much better than many of the first world nations because of the able leadership of our honourable Prime Minister, however we are medically and infrastructure- wise not as well equipped to cope up as our first world counterparts. Being a frequent traveller, living out of suitcases, February onwards a sense of fear began growing each time I travelled overseas and I began making masks to prevent contact, and by the first week of March the situation had become unfavourable, so all workers in my workshop started social distancing by sitting six feet apart, having vitamin C and multivitamin everyday to strengthen their immunity system, washing hand and sanitising before entering the factory and at regular intervals, and lastly using face masks. However, the supply ended and they began using scraps of cloth to make daily masks; each one made two, washed it and wore it. Infact they become creative; girls would wear floral ones with lace inserts just to bring some cheer to the gloomy ambience.


The idea, to make masks on a larger scale and help people on the frontline, generated from there. We have the experience of designing and producing uniforms of all medical staff of Central India's biggest and most well equipped hospital, Kingsway, so we knew the nitty gritty. Additionally I spoke to a few doctors from the hospital and they informed me about the scarcity of masks plus the fact that 'for a layman an ordinary mask with a piece of cloth to cover the mouth and nose is what is required; the technical masks are for doctors and other professionals who come in contact with infected patients. The rest of us can do with two sets of this mask which we can wash and wear when we step out or come in contact with someone.'


So, before the lockdown was announced, we used our fabric to make masks and waited for the right channel to distribute them. Also. the day before we closed our office, many of my workers who had machines at home took fabric and raw material with them.We educated them about hygiene and social distancing which they promised they would follow, but to be sure, I tied up with with a sanitisation plant in a leading hospital where these masks will be sanitised before being distributed by the FDCI who is doing a lot for the fashion fraternity and fulfilling social responsibility. Mr. Sunil Sethi, a visionary, was very happy with this idea and took it further to ensure proper channels of distribution. So we have two thousand masks ready in Nagpur [but transport services are shut] and once our factory begins operations we can make another five thousand. Along with this  we are not adept with technical suits but we shall make normal scrub suits for nurses, patient gowns and other such uniforms because these are also in shortage in government hospitals.We are using pure cotton fabric which is easy to wash and wear and perfect for the harsh summer.


This pandemic is the most grim one of the century and would lead to economic repercussions as the whole world is now in lockdown and trade and commerce are badly hit.Though, since February. there was a fear that there would be a pandemic I somehow assumed India would sail through however we too suddenly got affected and there was very little time to plan or finish orders or do any kind of financial planning. That said, we have paid full salaries for March and will continue doing so because it is imperative that we support our team during this crisis; however with no funds coming in, old payments yet to be recovered and reserves slowing dwindling, it is a precarious situation. So people are working from home, cooperating and doing their bit and there is a section who forfeited their salaries which has relieved me to a great extent so all I can do now is count my blessings and strategise for the post Corona period.


Indian fashion has already witnessed a small preview of slowdown during demonetisation. After November 2016 Indians purchasing power for designer wear began dwindling and a lot of thought process went when buying luxury good. However Covid19 is a global disaster and world wide there will be a slump and people will become philosophical about luxury after experiencing this scourge and there will be shortage of funds, cancellation of immediate events and celebrations which will result in poor buying pattern.To cope with this I am trying to do online courses and master classes that I can use in the next phase of business. There will be big decisions and some serious SWOT analysis to be undertaken in addition to tough cost cutting measures and choosing the exact path we need to follow. I have realised that going back to business as usual is no longer an option…'' Salut.

SHRUTI SANCHETI Shruti Sancheti wearing a non- surgical mask designed by her.



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