Passengers on a train wearing face masks amid the spread of the COVID-19 in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, on April 15, 2020. Agvi Firdaus/Shutterstock

Islamic Lifestyle

From headscarves to face masks: Indonesia’s modest fashion companies pivot as COVID-19 hits businesses

JAKARTA - Indonesia’s apparel companies hit by low demand due to COVID-19 movement and social restrictions are pivoting from fashion to face masks to stay in business.

“This year is among the most challenging of years for the modest fashion and textile industry in general,” Benny Soetrisno, chairperson of the Indonesia Textile Association told Salaam Gateway.

The recent government prohibition of mudik, the annual mass movement of millions of Indonesians heading back to their hometowns for Eid al Fitr, will suppress demand even more as people won’t be buying new clothes for themselves and their families, said Benny.

Indonesians have been advised to practise social distancing and stay home throughout Ramadan and Eid al Fitr as well, which will dampen consumer appetite even more.

Textile producers are being pushed into a corner to continue production to prevent layoffs, said Benny.

Making face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical and healthcare frontliners is one way they’re keeping afloat. 

“[W]e are reorienting production to masks and personal protection equipment for medical crew. This is to maintain cashflow, ahead of Ramadan where companies are obligated to pay THR (Eid allowance) to employees,” he said.

Wignyo Rahardi, owner of modern ethnic label Tenun Gaya said he sees some of his fellow designers pivoting to masks and PPEs, especially those who have large-scale production facilities.

“I also want to produce masks and PPEs but I am not able to since my production facility is small,” said Wignyo.

“Currently I am still focusing on completing orders from customers,” he said.  

But other fashion businesses have succeeded to pivot.

Anggiasari Mawardi, owner of modest fashion business Anggia Handmade, told Salaam Gateway there is no increase in demand for her clothes compared to last year’s pre-Ramadan season. She is currently focused on finishing last month’s orders for uniforms for religious schools Al-Azhar Jakarta and Bekasi Boarding Schools, state-owned enterprises and a rally motor club.

There are still some private orders for modest wear from customers who want to celebrate Eid al Fitr at home but the numbers are nowhere near last year’s. In the meantime, she has also diversified into making PPEs.

“Masks and PPEs are indeed rising. Since last month, I sold more than 7,000 pieces of masks and PPE wear,” said Anggiasari, who used to be a dentist and is familiar with protective wear for medical purposes.

The work has been coming in continuously, prompting her to consider expanding her business to include a new brand.

“Now I’m thinking to expand to include PPE apparel products under a new brand, Anggia Corp, since Anggia Handame only focuses on fashion,” she said.

Her business instincts may well pay off for her.

iPrice, that traces Indonesia’s online shopping interest for products during COVID-19, shows a rise of 167% for masks in March compared to February.

This surge in people looking for face masks also pulled in another modest fashion business, Elhijab, the company behind labels Elzatta and Dauky.

Head of marketing Meta Khamalia told Salaam Gateway demand growth for online sales is flat.

“Since many companies introduced the work from home policy, with Elhijab as no exception, response via online channels such as Whatsapp isn’t as fast as during normal periods,” said Meta referring to the company’s regular sales.

Elhijab has turned to producing masks that it both sells and gives for free to frontliners.

“We have more than 2,000 pieces of masks sold so far,” said Meta.

With the COVID-19 pandemic persisting, face masks and PPEs may well provide at least a short-term, if not mid-term, reprieve for modest fashion businesses such as Anggia Handmade and Elhijab.

(Reporting by Yosi Winosa; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim

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