By Michaela Tanga
Features Writer, The Philippine STAR
The world has boosted its creativity in finding alternative materials for making face masks.
Online, we can easily find do-it-yourself (DIY) video tutorials on how to transform old clothing into face covers. Recently, Japan and Chile also presented copper in face masks to repel certain bacteria and viruses.
The Philippines also takes masks one step further with Mindanao’s trademark abaca fiber.
Salay’s contribution to the world
Salay Handmade Products Industries, Inc. (SHPII) has been creating world-class stationery products for the last three decades.
In March, the Misamis Oriental-based company began developing prototypes of abaca-made masks, heeding to the call of the World Fair Trade Organization-Asia to join the rest of the world in flattening the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) curve by providing fair trade personal protective equipment (PPE) to affected communities.
SHPII utilized abaca that is locally grown by farmers in Salay and prized for its mechanical strength and resistance to saltwater.
“We have this strong, tear-resistant, and water-absorbent paper material that was introduced to us about five years ago. We experimented by applying this strong material to make face mask or face cover. The material is based from 100% abaca fiber, the strongest fiber in the world,” SHPII’s Neil Francis Rafisura told The Philippine STAR.
Along with local women artisans with over 30 years of experience in making handmade paper, SHPII started with the production of face masks in mid-April.
Mr. Rafisura explained that it takes roughly five days to process, convert and ship the face masks as each product is carefully and precisely manufactured by hand.
“The paper filters are manufactured by hand,” he shared. “The raw abaca fiber undergoes at least 15 processes before they are cut and sewn into face covers. It also has three layers: two layers of abaca-based filters in 90 to 220 gram per square meter (gsm) and one layer of cloth.”
Soon, they will have the capacity to produce 4,000 face covers per week. SHPII’s goal is to gradually increase their production and is currently focusing on developing and adding more features and varieties to the mask. They are looking to add layers of anti-microbial cloth and cotton fabric to cater to the special needs of the market.
“We really need to scale up our production capacity to satisfy the demand. We need more sub-contractors for sewing, preferably within Misamis Oriental or Cagayan de Oro City and a reliable courier service for our distribution,” he shared.
According to the recent study conducted by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Region 10, the abaca face cover has a filtration rate that is seven times better than cloth masks. It also has lower water absorption than N95 masks. More tests will be conducted to strengthen the study of DOST.
“Our mask is for face covers and not for medical or surgical use,” he added. “We are not in that category. It is not our intention to market this to hospitals. However, it can be an option for better protection compared to thin masks found and peddled everywhere and in the public market place,” he said.
To support the local artisans of Salay, Misamis Oriental, customers may call the following numbers to order a facemask: (0956) 956-6769, (0936) 980-3345, (0917) 529-9150, (0998) 854-5644, (0956) 739-6238 and (0936) 369-8502. To learn more about SHPII, visit www.salayhandmade.com.