Retail

Published: June 11, 2020 | Updated: June 11, 2020

Stay safe, stay stylish: Firm seamlessly moves from uniforms to very fashionable face masks

By Andrew Diprose, editor

A company which supplies stylish uniforms to some of the UK’s best-known retail brands has seamlessly switched to making highly fashionable and comfortable face masks.

4Couture, which has been trading for 15 years, would normally be heading into its busiest time of the year.

The business counts AEG, John Lewis and Zanussi among its customers and also supplies wardrobe for hospitality clients, pubs and hotels.

It is also heavily involved in supplying branded merchandise for conferences to clients such as Motorola and dresses many reception teams in the City of London including Facebook and Slaughter & May.

But in March, orders stopped almost overnight.

In order to protect the business, 4Couture made use of the support available including grants and the Job Retention Scheme (JRS).

Lisa Morelli, Managing Director, pictured left, said: “We have our own workroom and a team of super talented and experienced seamstresses and, back in March, we’d just recruited some amazing talent.

“However, when the pandemic hit the business, these staff weren’t covered by the JRS scheme so we switched our production and are now handmaking luxury facemasks.

“This has kept the team employed and our machines running.”

Where possible, 4Couture, which operates from a studio workshop at Arena Business Centre in Ferndown, is sourcing fabrics in the UK from long-standing brands such as Rose & Hubble.

The government has updated its advice regarding the wearing of masks, making it mandatory on public transport from Monday June 15.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also updated its recommendations, suggesting everyone should also wear face masks when using shops.

Lisa said: “Given that wearing a mask might become commonplace, and something we’ll be doing well into 2021, we thought we’d rather have something stylish.

“Who knows, masks might just become the new ‘IT’ accessory for next season!

“We’ve also tested our masks extensively during our weekly shop and daily exercise.

“It’s the little details that make a difference.

“Our masks are made using cotton ties rather than elastic for instance.

“If you’re wearing a mask for any length of time then comfort and fit is key.

“As the mask is worn right against your face, we wanted something that looked and felt quality.

“We’re usually a B2B supplier and everything we produce is done on a bespoke basis in consultation with our clients.

“But we’ve created an online shop – www.4couture.com/face-masks – so that individuals can purchase a mask and we’ve also included a number of designs for guys too.”

In addition to the retail range, 4Couture has produced branded masks for existing clients that have teams returning to work.

Some have asked for their company logo while others have had masks monogrammed to avoid staff getting their masks mixed up with colleagues.

Lisa said: “We’re able to source fabrics in company colours and all our masks are made from 100 per cent cotton as opposed to polyester or synthetic materials.

“Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in America, and other organisations, has shown that a thicker weave cotton is more effective in filtering particles in the absence of the medical grade masks.”

Nicky Grimes joined the team as a Production Seamstress in March with more than 25 years’ experience.

She said: “I was so excited to be joining the girls in the 4Couture team but within three weeks of starting, the virus hit and everything was up in the air.

“Initially I assumed I’d be out of a job but we put our heads together and decided that with so much experience between us, we could be up and running with masks in no time.

“It’s been so exciting to see the beautiful fabrics arriving and also knowing that the masks are making a difference to help people protect each other and those around them.

“It’s not the induction I was expecting but it’s been brilliant to be busy and know that I’m contributing to the business.”

In addition to the current designs on the website, 4Couture is currently working on a family pack so that everyone can sport matching facemasks.

If it is possible to take a holiday abroad this year then the business is looking at launching a holiday range as airlines such as Easyjet have confirmed the wearing of a face mask will be compulsory.

Lisa, who employs ten people, said; “Like many business owners right now, it’s a daily challenge worrying about our business survival and also the wellbeing of the team, whether they’re still working or at home on furlough.

“We’ve thrown everything we can at keeping the business going to ensure that when our regular clients start to come back to life, we’ll still be here to support them.

“If we’re worried about a second wave later in 2020 then I can imagine mask wearing is going to become increasingly commonplace.

“We decided that there must be a way to stay safe and stay stylish which is where our mask designs came from.

“I can foresee that in environments where staff are wearing company branded garments, then a facemask is going to become part of that uniform.”

  • From the start of the pandemic crisis – and acutely aware of the PPE shortages for frontline workers  – 4Couture has donated a medical grade mask to UK frontline workers for every mask it sells.