Coronavirus: Hong Kong tailors find unlikely gold mine making face masks during pandemic

Apr 27, 2020

When Hong Kong’s famed fabric shops stopped getting customers because of Covid-19, they came up with a creative solution.

Hong Kong is known for its world-class tailors and alteration shops, but with the coronavirus keeping most people indoors, these stores have seen their business dwindle.

To stay afloat, many of them have come up with a novel solution: making DIY masks out of fabric.

A tailor sews cloth masks at a store in Sham Shui Po, a working-class neighborhood in Hong Kong.
A tailor sews cloth masks at a store in Sham Shui Po, a working-class neighborhood in Hong Kong. / Photo: Martin Chan/SCMP

As demand for facial protection rises amid the Covid-19 pandemic, fabric shops in the working-class neighborhood of Sham Shui Po have shifted to selling cloth masks.

(Read more: Why you see masks everywhere in Asia but not in the West)

Garment workers who would normally cut curtains, trim jeans, and patch up clothes are now using their stock to make masks.

Some are even sending customers home with templates so that they can sew their own masks at home.

Templates for making masks at a store in Sham Shui Po.
Templates for making masks at a store in Sham Shui Po. / Photo: Martin Chan/SCMP

Li Qingqing, who runs Helen Best Alteration Shop in Sham Shui Po, says her revenue has gone up by almost a third since she began selling cloth masks at the start of the outbreak in Hong Kong in February.

“My most important source of income has been masks,” she says.

Tailors sew masks outside a storefront in Sham Shui Po.
Tailors sew masks outside a storefront in Sham Shui Po. / Photo: Martin Chan/SCMP

Sham Shui Po is one of Hong Kong’s poorest neighborhoods, comprising mostly working-class families, migrant workers, and senior citizens.

Cloth masks on sale at a store in Sham Shui Po.
Cloth masks on sale at a store in Sham Shui Po. / Photo: Martin Chan/SCMP

Homes in the neighborhood are small, old, and cramped. Some apartments have been subdivided to house up to six times the number of people they were designed to hold.

(Read more: Surviving the coronavirus in a 6-by-3-foot ‘cage home’)

Some shops, such as Li’s, have donated cloth masks or sold them at a lower rate to local nursing homes and nonprofit organizations.

“My biggest hope is that I can help many people,” Li says.

Materials, sewing patterns, and tools for making masks at a store in Sham Shui Po.
Materials, sewing patterns, and tools for making masks at a store in Sham Shui Po. / Photo: Martin Chan/SCMP
Fabric for making masks at a store in Sham Shui Po.
Fabric for making masks at a store in Sham Shui Po. / Photo: Martin Chan/SCMP
A woman wears a handmade mask at a store in Sham Shui Po.
A woman wears a handmade mask at a store in Sham Shui Po. / Photo: Martin Chan/SCMP
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Credit

Producer: Clarissa Wei

Videographer and Editor: Hanley Chu

Mastering: Victor Peña