Khadi Masks: Made in India

Khadi Masks: Made in India

KVIC participates in crisis management by manufacturing protective khadi masks that are breathable, affordable and reusable 

Even before the Indian government’s principal scientific advisor issued a detailed manual to prepare homemade masks from old vests, T-shirts and handkerchiefs, all nodes were leading to khadi.

Eight days after the national lockdown was announced, the manual from the principal scientific advisor listed best practices for homemade masks. “A double layer of 100 per cent cotton cloth is about 70 per cent as effective as a surgical mask at capturing small particles (up to five times smaller than coronavirus). It is breathable and easy to find around the house. These masks can be easily reused,” it stated. In the US, among countries most hit by the pandemic, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), issued similar guidelines stressing on attributes like “double layer”, “breathable”, “reusable” along with the simple but powerful term “cotton”.

Now a week later, not only has more clarity on the quality and material of ideal COVID-19 made-at-homes masks emerged, but fast thinking entrepreneurs and CSR guided manufacturers too have entered the picture.

Khadi masks top the endeavour. Currently made and supplied by the Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC), they are the only immediate solutions that can meet the scale of demand in India while precisely matching medical guidelines for locally produced masks.

The most breathable, washable, reusable cotton fabric that we Indians proudly call the fabric “of freedom” has returned yet again, as a part of rescue solutions in our collective lives. No less than an institution (that reverence though may be reserved for rural, handspun, handwoven), khadi, even in its Ambar Charkha large-scale avatar, has quite stunningly soldiered on as a physical, philosophical and commercially viable companion in Indian thought and life. That it turns out to be suitable for enrolment in this fight against COVID-19 only underlines its long argued for versatility.

VK Saxena, Chairman KVIC, may not be as poetic but he is all for the pragmatic and the urgent. “Absolutely. Khadi masks are the best, most affordable and the most viable solution at this time,” he says explaining how, after assessing the situation, KVIC quickly set to work to mobilise existing raw material. Pre-produced khadi fabric from across 20 khadi institutions of India was made urgently accessible to Self Help Groups (SHGs) which usually work with silai workers operating from homes and who now stitch these masks. They are double-layered, in white or coloured khadi with edges of different colours, are washable, reusable; they filter moisture droplets but not air.

Photo: KVIC

PPE (personal protection equipment) sets in khadi fabric manufactured by KVIC.

Given the lockdown guidelines, no mass transportation is used to send out the masks. Instead, listed under essential services production, they are handed by the SHGs to district collectors in each area who are the designated nodal officers in the coronavirus containment exercises.

Priced at ₹15 apiece and not listed for commercial sale at the moment, KVIC khadi masks are being ordered by many states. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, for instance, has placed an order for 6 crore masks, while the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu & Kashmir recently ordered 200,000, confirms Saxena.

He adds that at the Nagrota khadi centre near Jammu, khadi napkin weaving has been currently put on hold so that the centre can entirely focus on khadi masks.

In the interest of public service, KVIC has also manufactured 1000 PPE (personal protection equipmment) sets in khadi fabric on a trial basis. Each set includes a shoe cover, body cover, gloves, an eye protection add-on and a face mask, all of which come in a bag. Washing and repacking or disposal is made easier by the bag.

Photo: Instagram/kvic

KVIC expects more states to place orders for khadi masks, and Saxena says the institution also intends to supply the masks and PPE gear to border security forces.

The shortage of PPE in India, like in all other countries, has been extensively reported. On March 30, The Economic Times reported that India needed 1 million coveralls and goggles, 4 million N-95 masks, 2 million nitrile gloves, 600,000 face shield and 2 million triple-layer surgical masks among other items.

Saxena clarifies that the khadi versions do not substitute impermeable Hazmat suits, but could step in as a layer of protection for non-medical population.

Commenting on khadi’s veracity as the right fabric, Hyderabad-based Malkha khadi expert, innovator and handloom practitioner Uzramma Bilgrami agrees that khadi is indeed the best fabric given its breathability and reusability. KVIC is clearly on the right track. Malkha khadi, a blend of mulmul and khadi would be even more superior to khadi says Uzramma, but it cannot be produced on a mass scale.

“Khadi is most suitable because it is not processed as much on machines as other cotton fabrics,” she explains. Handloom cotton, she says, is the next best option.

Banner (clockwise from top left): Masks manufactured by New Balance (Instagram/newbalance), PPE sets by KVIC, a woman in a mask (Tauseef Mustafa / AFP), masks manufactured by Christian Siriano (Instagram/csiriano), masks manufactured by Giorgio Armani (Instagram/giorgioarmani).