Barbour turns its factories over to the battle for PPE to wage coronavirus fight

European manufacturing pressed into service to find ways to tackle vital equipment shortfall

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 14: A woman walks past the completed NHS Nightingale Hospital North West at Manchester Central on April 14, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread to many countries across the world, claiming over 115,000 lives and infecting over 1. 9 million people. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Some of the world’s leading clothes makers have thrown their weight behind the push to produce protective gear for frontline health workers.

They have joined companies including Rolls-Royce, Dyson and Lego in a Europe-wide effort to fight Covid-19.

British clothing manufacturer Barbour, known for its durable jackets, has announced it will adapt its factory in northern England to make personal protective equipment, or PPE, for the country's National Health Service.

The company says it is working to supply health services in the north of England with gowns and scrubs for health workers.

“Everyone has a role to play in fighting Covid-19, and I wanted my daughter Helen and I to play our part by turning our South Shields factory over to produce PPE product for the NHS,” said company chairwoman Margaret Barbour.

“The factory where we normally make our classic wax jackets is no stranger to adaptation. During both World Wars, we turned the factory over to make military garments to assist the war effort,” she said.

Medical staff are seen at the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre in London as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, April 14, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley

“We are pleased to once again be able to make a difference and this time, to support the NHS.”

But Barbour is only the latest clothing manufacturer to take up the fight against the virus.

High-end designer boutique Burberry announced it would dedicate some of its manufacturing capacity to produce protective gowns for NHS workers.

The company said it was “retooling” its coat factory in Castleford, West Yorkshire, to make nonsurgical gowns and masks for patients.

The British government says 761 million pieces of PPE have so far been delivered nationwide.

And in France, LVMH, which makes perfume for Givenchy, Guerlain and Christian Dior, has been producing hand sanitiser for about a month.

Beyond the fashion industry, European manufacturers from the aerospace, automotive and even toy sectors have rallied around government calls to produce badly needed equipment.

Companies including engineering giants Rolls-Royce, Dyson and McLaren have joined the effort.

National blockades

A consortium including carmakers Renault and Mercedes helped deliver the first batch of the Penlon ventilator device, which has been rapidly adapted from existing ventilator designs.

In Denmark, toy manufacturer Lego has applied its expertise in producing plastic products in large volumes to make PPE in its factory in the south of the country.

The pandemic has created an unprecedented demand for equipment and supplies necessary to fight the virus, with many countries facing shortages of masks, gowns and ventilators as confirmed cases, and deaths, continue to rise.

While bringing in as much protective equipment as possible, some European states have received faulty products, with the Netherlands in particular discovering that about 600,000 imported face masks were defective.

Several EU countries, including Germany and France, have blocked the export of vital protective gear.