Today, fashion companies are moving away from their usual business and are actively planning to fight supply chain disruption. Clothing brands face their own wake-up call, their own prolonged challenges, slow speed to market and an over-reliance on China, and all this proved to be a massive struggle for them to bring enough medical and non-medical face masks to the market, the demand of which isn’t expected to slow down any time in near future. Out of both, the rise of non-medical masks is seeing a gradual surge among fashion consumers who intend to use these masks to safeguard themselves from airborne particles as well as consider them as a fashion accessory.
Owing to this gradually surging trend of non-medical masks, or better called fashion masks, a lot of knitwear designers, brands and manufacturers all around the world are using their technical expertise to produce knitted face masks during the COVID-19 crisis. And, needless to mention, they are getting immense support from the knitting technology providers such as Shima Seiki and Stoll.
Answering to the new demand, Shima Seiki was among the first which helped companies quickly shift from fine-gauge apparel products to making functional and breathable cotton knitted face masks. The Japanese knitting tech giant kept releasing 3D knitting data all through March and April to assist knitters using the data in producing masks on a variety of its computerised knitting machines. Till today, the total number of versions of knitting data for masks released by the company is 19. This 3D mask data is helping knitters to produce masks at home, at factories, for kids and for adults.
String Theory, known to create unique textile designs and produce limited knitwear from their Montreal studio, has seen 3D knitted mask as the newest addition in its product portfolio using Shima Seiki SSR knitting machines.
On the other hand, Ministry of Supply, USA – a long time user of Shima Seiki WHOLEGARMENT knitting machine – developed an initial prototype of the cotton knit mask and it went through some fit tests as per standards. The company then asked for feedback from surgeons and doctors, based on which, the Ministry of Supply updated the mask with a better fit that contours to the face with a tie-back to improve fit for all-day wear. This new upgraded mask now features a pocket to insert filtration fabric so the outer body can be washed and reused. The company has proceeded with HEPA Grade fabric to insert as the lining fabric for filtration purposes.
One of the most innovative approaches was followed by a womenswear company M. PATMOS which came up with ‘Social Distancing Masks’, produced on-demand. This mask is knitted using Shima Seiki’s WHOLEGARMENT – 3D knitting technology and uses a 74 per cent viscose, 25 per cent polyester, 3 per cent lycra blend for a super soft and comfortable mask that retains shape and contours to the face. The masks also feature a metal nose clip at the bridge of nose for better fit on various face shapes. Knitting is done with a pocket insert to be worn with or without filters. Without the filter insert, the masks can be machine-washed for repeated usage.
While developing the knitting data, Shima Seiki has greatly managed to have feasibility for mask to be produced on both WHOLEGARMENT machines and its conventional shaping machines. One version of WHOLEGARMENT mask data can also be used for production on SWG041N2, SWG061N2 and SWG091N2 machines, while the same data can be utilised on its compact WHOLEGARMENT knitting machines – commonly known as WHOLEGARMENT Mini machines – which are suited to the production of small accessory items in 15 gauges.
Another version of WHOLEGARMENT mask data is also valid for production on the MACH2XS series flagship WHOLEGARMENT knitting machines featuring four needle beds in 15L. Shaped knit mask data is meant for production on SVR093SP as well as the rest of Shima Seiki’s computerised knitting machines equipped with the moveable sinker system in 14 gauges.
According to Shima Seiki, knitters with machines that match the above criteria can download the mask data from the Shima Seiki’s user’s site which is an archive featuring over 10,000 knit samples for use by its customers worldwide. By releasing mask data for a range of different machines, the company aims to alleviate the shortage of masks as much as it can by allowing production of masks by as many of its customers as possible. Markedly, the knitting data also consists of masks meant for the children and Shima Seiki has made data available for them in three sizes – S, M, L.
Knitted cotton masks produced on Shima Seiki machines can be washed and reused repeatedly. Unlike non-woven surgical masks, cotton knit masks do not have virus and pollen filtration functionality as the main use of these masks is for prevention of water droplets sprayed from coughing and sneezing and for reducing exposure to allergens.
German knitting technology provider STOLL is also proactively supporting knitters with ready patterns for flat knitted facemasks – oronasal facemasks, as part of the company’s contribution to the global fight against COVID-19. Though STOLL came up to support the industry in short duration, it still believes the current knitting masks have the function of reducing the habit of face touching and the risk of droplet distribution through talking, sneezing and coughing.
STOLL has provided a supportive solution by inserting certified filters, which are placed securely over integrated pockets and can be easily replaced or removed. The knitters can modify both the size and design of the mask while they can also be seamlessly provided with knitted rubber loops or retractable knot band solutions.
However, this is the development of STOLL in the western part of the world and when it comes to the eastern part of the world, one of the early adopters of seamless cotton knitted fashion mask using STOLL machines is Greater Noida (India)-based KatBro Corporation Pvt. Ltd. (KBCL). The emerging knitwear manufacturing company has also started producing body coveralls but its CEO Kunal Kataria feels, as long as there is a demand there is supply. “So this coverall is just a demand and supply project. But we intend to work more on the fashion masks,” told Kunal to Apparel Resources.
KBCL has installed 12 advanced STOLL CMS 530 HP+ flat knitting machines having 18 gauges linked with programming and networking. With a working width of 127 cm and three systems, the CMS 530 HP+ enables KBCL to knit complex patterns quickly and highly productively and this fits true for these cotton knitted masks as well. “Its optimal combination of ‘knit/transfer/knit’ with structured, distribution and racking patterns boosts production effectively reducing complexities of mask knitting process,” shares Kunal.