Nigeria’s The Assembly Hub Expands Production to Meet COVID-19 PPE Shortages via MASK ASSEMBLY
Those of you who have been following the Fashionomics Africa blog for some time now, may remember and interview we published with Pepper Chikezie, the founder of Nigeria-based, The Assembly Hub. And why wouldn’t you? This determined and inspiring young woman took it upon herself to create a platform, an initiative that meets the needs of fashion and creative entrepreneurs; a community that invites artists to collaborate and share their experiences, one that offers business support, mentorship, and the resources needed to grow a business sustainably. Since first pitching her concept back in 2017, The Assembly Hub has established itself as Nigeria’s leading creative hub for ambitious young talent, entrepreneurs, professionals and creatives in the fashion industry. By providing physical and virtual business, creative and professional support, The Assembly Hub unites creativity and entrepreneurship in an innovative way.
One of Chikezie’s main missions for The Assembly Hub, is to upscale and up-skill creative entrepreneurs in order to create socially and economically viable enterprises by removing barriers to creative and professional development. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the platform went on to expand into the mass manufacturing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including hospital overalls, scrubs and face masks with MASK ASSEMBLY, which aims to provide quality PPE for frontline workers, hospitals and at-risk communities as part of its effort to flatten the curve and support the local fashion industry. “When cases were on the rise, our immediate goal was to assemble our network to produce supplemental PPE for frontline workers, hospitals and at-risk communities. Considering the fashion industry is one of the sector badly hit by the pandemic we not only wanted to contribute support for businesses and young entrepreneurs but demonstrate the important role the fashion and garment sector play in curbing the crisis,” says Pepper.
The initiative started in early April, via raising charity donations and redirecting the funds to The Assembly’s network of artisans, design studios and manufacturers. This produced 15,000 reusable face masks in two weeks which were donated to hospitals and at-risk communities as part of their COVID-19 response. Considering the bottlenecks faced in quality assurance, standardization and the capacity to meet the growing demand, The Assembly Hub raised further seed funding from Africa’s leading technology innovation hub, Co-creation Hub (CcHUB), to set up factory production lines with the capacity of producing 10,000 units weekly. This partnership and expansion will enable The Assembly to increase its capacity and standardization of PPE and continue its mission to innovate, empower young talent and contribute to strengthening the ecosystem.
“Some of the manufacturers and design studios we partnered and worked with include Nigerian brands, This is Us, Katie Wang, Ruff ‘n’ Tumble and Gatimo. We donated face masks to orphanages and children’s homes such as The Destiny Trust and worked with charity initiatives like Project Ark, Tremendoc and Nairabox which carried out outreach in various communities (slums and semi-urban localities). We also donated to the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research,” Pepper told Fashionomics Africa.
The shortage of standard PPE in Africa and globally has become increasingly problematic. Following the surge in COVID-19 cases, the WHO has estimated that 89 million medical masks are required for the pandemic response monthly. In order to maintain quality assurance and standards, The Assembly has also partnered with the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) to sterilize every face mask and PPE item produced in addition to providing advisory support. Bosun Tijani, CEO, CcHUB adds, “We invested in The Assembly Hub to manufacture medical grade masks sterilized by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR). We will continue to work towards optimising and scaling past our 15,000 masks a week production capacity to ensure that we create value to our community through local interventions”.
The Assembly Hub is excited for this new chapter in the organisation’s journey and will strive to drive operational excellence and deliver high quality and ethically manufactured and locally sourced products. "We were really pleased to hire some garment makers from the Lagos State Employment Trust fund, which has an initiative to train young people and women in garment manufacturing and place them with job opportunities," Pepper tells us.