Nigerian fashion label Tiffany Amber swaps couture for PPE

Fashion designer Folake Akindele Coker switched to producing PPE to keep her factory open.

(CNN)These days, things look a little different when Folake Akindele Coker gets to her office. "I arrive at 9am, all geared (up) for this invisible enemy," she says. The 45-year-old designer and founder of Nigerian fashion label Tiffany Amber now starts each day with a 10-minute safety talk for her production team, "who at first did not seem to understand the gravity and the potential of being infected by the (Covid-19) virus."

Coker founded Tiffany Amber in 1998, and it's now considered one of Nigeria's most influential fashion and lifestyle brands.
In early March, the number of colorful prints and couture runway garments that normally littered the factory floor dissipated, and the company's sewing machines began stitching hospital scrubs, gowns, stretcher sheets and non-medical face masks. Less than a month after the pandemic reached Africa, Tiffany Amber's entire factory refocused to produce personal protective equipment (PPE), something Coker notes took immense pressure to turn around.
    The colorful garments of the Tiffany Amber fashion line, seen here during Arise Fashion week in 2019, have since been replaced in production by PPE to help during the pandemic.
    To make the shift, Coker says the company first had to secure more than 15 tons of raw materials including approximately 90,000 yards of fabric, 300,000 yards of elastic, and almost a million yards of thread. All of this happened, she says, right before borders closed in Nigeria and prices spiked due to the unforeseen demand for materials.
    As of mid-July, the World Health Organization shows Nigeria as having more than 30,000 total confirmed cases of coronavirus, the second-most on the continent behind South Africa.
    As Covid-19 cases rose and consumer spending fell, Coker saw an opportunity for her business to stay open -- and to help out. "Our expertise in garment production helped facilitate this shift to bridge the gap in the supply of medical apparel," she tells CNN.
    A Tiffany Amber employee sorts ready-to-ship gowns for healthcare workers.

    The push for PPE

    This pivot has been a trend in the private sector worldwide, as companies around the globe have switched gears to supply the growing demand for PPE.
    According to the World Bank, Covid-19 has pushed sub-Saharan Africa into its