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From Madiba shirts to masks - keeping business alive during Covid-19

Financial experts have warned that the local economy will be heavily impacted by the long-term effects of Covid-19. So, how are businesses adapting to meet these unprecedented challenges?
From Madiba shirts to masks - keeping business alive during Covid-19

Adapt to survive

Globally and locally, companies are finding ways to continue with business, albeit not ‘as usual’, while also rising to meet to meet the unique needs and challenges brought about by the pandemic. With the ban on alcohol negatively affecting various providers, some distilleries have pivoted to fulfil a more urgent requirement: hand sanitiser. In other examples of industries pivoting to meet more pressing concerns, there are reports of auto manufacturers adapting to provide much needed ventilators, and even small-scale businesses like independent grocery stores halting normal services to deliver food to frontline workers.

Masks for Africa

One celebrated South African establishment, Lontana Apparel, has positioned itself as a key players both in business continuity and community enrichment during these trying times. Best known for manufacturing the popular ‘Madiba shirt’, Lontana utilised the skills of its workers and manufacturing capabilities to provide non-medical personal protective equipment (PPE) masks to essential workers throughout South Africa, and to the nonprofit sector.

Wearing masks when in public has been declared mandatory for all South Africans by President Cyril Ramaphosa, and cloth masks are considered one of the most effective means of preventing the virus from spreading. In the early days of the national lockdown, Lontana recognised this need and galvanised its ‘ecosystem’ of suppliers and stakeholders to respond to some of our country’s most pressing needs, not only by positioning themselves as a major supplier of PPE, but also by empowering workers and ensuring the security of jobs. In answer to the apparel industry being brought to its knees as well-known chains were forced to cancel orders and factories were facing permanent closure, Lontana Apparel saw an opportunity to retain their workforce and provide an essential service.

Lontana, in accordance with government gazette guidelines, has produced over five million masks to date. Its quality disposable and reusable mask options are so in demand that a night shift has been employed to ensure they continue to meet customer needs. The level two B-BEE suppliers have further contributed to community enrichment by empowering 20 external CMT (cut, make, trim) manufacturers, providing over 1,000 people with work, and employing 60 factory workers. Where other businesses have unfortunately had to close, Lontana has made the best of a dire situation.

“We have experienced machinists, used to making high-quality shirts to very exact specifications so I had every faith in their ability to rise to the challenge. South Africa has an enormous amount of skilled resources currently unemployed and willing to work. By local businesses seeing the benefit of supporting local apparel manufacturers we could start seeing the rebirth of a once thriving industry in South Africa again,” concludes Dylan Rothschild, managing partner for Lontana.

About Lontana Apparel

Lontana Apparel Factory was founded in 1985 in Cape Town and is one of the oldest remaining shirt factories in the Western Cape. Lontana was acquired by the Presidential Group in 2017. To help fight the pandemic caused by Covid-19, Lontana is now and until further notice producing quality bulk disposable and reusable face masks. For more information, please visit

5 Aug 2020 09:06