Two groups from San Nicolás in Argentina, seamstresses and 3D printing experts, came up with an answer to the critical need to provide protection for people against COVID-19.
When compulsory lockdown was just beginning in Argentina, the images coming in from all over the world revealed a highly pressing need: how to take care of ourselves in the fight against a virus for which there was no cure or vaccine.
Facemasks and face shields made their way into the center of photos from around the world. By mid-March, armed with this inspiration, some designers, teachers and students from technical schools had decided to create their own face shields and masks using 3D printers.
"There were so many different designs, and quite a few one-off efforts, so I proposed we all join forces," says Guillermo Silpituca, who is coordinating a team of more than 30 volunteers who managed to produce 1,000 facemasks in three weeks of work. “Over time, we were joined by executives, students and teachers from different institutions such as ITEC, UTN, the city’s technical schools, CFP No. 402, and then some 3D entrepreneurs and amateurs started to join us as well. We set up a WhatsApp group that started to grow, and the Municipality provided us with all the materials we needed to assemble the pieces, while a doctor provided guidance as to the best designs for health purposes."
Amateurs and entrepreneurs alike joined in, putting their printers at the service of the task ahead, donating their efforts, time and energy from their homes. "It was a wonderful collaborative experience. I believe that when there is a clear mission and we all go in the same direction, we can make great things happen," says Silpituca, who was assisted by Professor Gustavo Mauro in a second instance of group coordination.
"It was a wonderful collaborative experience. I believe that when there is a clear mission and we all go in the same direction, we can make great things happen," says Silpituca.
The Municipality of San Nicolás was in charge of organizing logistics and prioritizing the delivery of the masks according to the demands from medical professionals and auxiliaries as the pandemic unfolded. "During the first few weeks, everything seemed urgent and that was the first impact. But the makers came together spontaneously, showing themselves to be a valuable workforce capable of swiftly solving any design issues as they came up," says the coordinator, who is also an artist.
More than 30 craftspeople from San Nicolas were involved in the mask printing initiative.
When times are hard, the spirit of solidarity shines through. This is the reason why many people in the different neighborhoods of San Nicolás began to see how they could make donations to the hospital, even with home-made items such as face masks. The response to this collective intention was to bring everybody together and for the Municipality to provide them with the materials, deliver them to their homes, and then collect and distribute the finished items.
"They asked me to coordinate this group of seamstresses as they knew I work in the textile industry," says Macarena Vico, a graphic designer and industrial embroiderer, who headed up the team and assisted the Municipality with the purchase of everything required to fashion gowns, caps, boots and facemasks. "Suddenly, we all started getting together and by the first weekend there were already 30 of us ready to cut and sew whatever had to be done. We had 24 rolls of material, thread, wire, alcohol to disinfect and bag the products at each house. And so we got going."
"A group of almost 80 people was formed to achieve the goal in an excellent working atmosphere. Everybody was kind and happy, they were delighted to see us and clapped when we went to pick up what they’d made,” says Vico.
"Day by day, more people joined in. They saw our solidarity sewing flyer and with their families and neighbors decided to help, either by sewing or lending their vehicles to pick up the masks. A group of almost 80 people was formed, people who gave the best of themselves to achieve the objective in the midst of a great working atmosphere. Everybody was kind and happy, they were delighted to see us and clapped when we went to pick up what they’d made,” says Vico. "And when the first batch of 10,000 face masks was delivered to the hospitals, we all said 'wow, just look at what we did!'"
With no weekly deadlines, each person did as much as they were able, some using a small cutting table, while others worked with machines or on large tables. These were the parameters set for each person’s output quotas, allowing the group to organize itself with ease — although there was no shortage of challenges for the older seamstresses who were not used to WhatsApp or viewing an Excel file to see how much the quantities of fabric would yield.
"When I joined this group, I didn't think it would get so big. I had to contact the others, understand them, learn from the others how to work together and develop a method. No one is anyone else's boss. We’re all in this together. This experience has taught me that when people want to be supportive and organized, they can,” emphasizes Vico.
Logistics was key, both for receiving donations and for handling the deliveries.
During this crisis, one of the trades that has regained value and visibility is the sewing trade.