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Pivoting in a tough and shifting COVID-19 market

Thursday, 30 April 2020  
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Image above: Masks developed by CDI member Wren (left); the 'sneeze screen' developed by CDI member Minima

For small businesses around the country, the COVID-19 crisis and the ongoing lockdown has caused immense stress and threatened livelihoods, particularly in the craft and design sector. We at the CDI have been working tirelessly to help the sector through government engagement, and by launching new online initiatives. Amongst our members, we are seeing many business owners pivot and rapidly turn around new products such as personal protective clothing like masks as well as screens. We caught up with a few of these members to find out what they are doing to mitigate the risk to their businesses.

In addition to a major push to market our online product platform, which showcases thousands of local products; the launch of our online learning platform with free training; and having run a number of targeted COVID-19 business webinars to support businesses already, we have also been working with government and the private sector to help them secure orders from mask-producing SMMEs. We are developing supply chains and channeling demand, and alerting CDI member businesses of opportunities.

According to Fran Stewart, CDI’s Market Development Programme Manager, these efforts have begun to bear fruit. “We are starting to get a lot of enquiries and we hope to turn these into firm orders. We expect this to pick up as we move through the various stages of lockdown,” she says.

She adds that the current environment has also shown the resourcefulness and tenacity of businesses in the craft and design sector, many of whom have rapidly pivoted to register themselves as essential services to start producing protective products to fight COVID-19.

“In early April we did a call to the CDI database of member businesses and over 270 businesses signed up as being ready and able to produce cloth masks, which now under Level 4 will become mandatory. This is a testament to the mindset of resilience and effort businesses are putting in to ensure they stay operational. We have had a flood of feedback, and we will continue to feed opportunities to members  and  hope to secure more orders through the CDI in the next few weeks.”

Mila Moreano from Yes We Can, one of CDI’s business members making cloth masks, said that they became producers of washable masks even before their use was made compulsory.

“We have produced over 3 000 masks already, and donated and/or sold them for a subsidised price to frontline, essential workers such as hospital staff at Groote Schuur, NGOs that selflessly distribute food parcels and conduct COVID-19 tests, and to shelters for abused women,” she says. She adds that this has helped her team to maintain an income despite the challenges, with the women sewing the masks able to take home R1 200 a week.

Moreano says it is key for Yes We Can as a business to make a difference, and to ensure that the most vulnerable have access to masks.

Another longstanding CDI member, Wren Design, have developed a patent-pending process that makes paper stitchable and durable.
Made from coated paper with Nano Silver that has anti-microbial properties, each mask lasts between 6 and 12 months, and they can be recoated by Wren as well in future if need be.

Wendren Setzer, owner of Wren Design, says that they believe in rising to any challenge. “The two challenges we took up were survival and the worldwide call to make face masks. We wondered how we could make a face mask out of paper; and several prototypes later we developed two unique mask patterns. We also researched coatings and our outer surface of paper is now not just hydrophobic (water resistant) but also anti-microbial,” she says.

In another example of local ingenuity, and in line with the recommendation to have a protective screen between staff and customers, CDI member Minima has, along with Coney Collective, developed a protective ‘sneeze screen’, made with Plexiglass and Birch Ply. It ships flat pack and slots together with no tools required

And Barrydale Hand Weavers have effectively used Thundafund crowdfunding, which has seen R130 000 pledged so far. Contributions go towards a COVID-19 Rescue Fund, in return for which they are offering various rewards. Contributions allow them to create an Employee Benefit Fund that has a 30% shareholding in the business, enabling staff to have a direct and lasting benefit from the pledges.


And in the online technology space, one of the CDI’s Design Innovation Seed Fund (DISF) grant funding recipients SwiftVee has ramped up how it helps farmers to trade livestock online despite the lockdown, and in one case, sold over R4m worth of livestock online in just two days, ensuring that these business in the farming industry stay afloat when physical livestock auctions are not possible. SwiftVee has demonstrated profoundly how design for a digital economy can truly keep the wheels of business turning.

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