Mask Production Puts KICOTEC Garment Factory on the Global Map


By Marion Wagaki, Rootooba, 19 June 2020

Kitui County Textile Centre (KICOTEC) started as a simple embroidery outfit stitching uniforms before inking a lucrative deal in 2019 to tailor over 6, 000 uniforms for chiefs and their assistants countrywide and in 2020, the Centre is on the global map for production of facemasks.

KICOTEC,   operated by Kitui County Government is among local companies identified by the government to ease the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) as the world grapples with COVID-19 pandemic.

The factory’s shift in production from manufacturing of garments to address an urgent need for basic PPEs has boosted government efforts towards local manufacturing by cutting on similar imports from countries such as China.

We catch up with the Ag CEO Georgina Musembi to understand how the factory is fairing in producing surgical and washable facemasks.

“KICOTEC has a workforce of over 300 people of which 82% are women and 80% youth, and who are making masks for adults and school-going children”, Musembi says.

As the world grapples with a dwindling supply of COVID-19 preventive gears, KICOTEC is plugging in the gap by producing 30, 000 face masks daily to ease Kenya’s shortage, intending to upgrade the number to 100,000.

Musembi says that following the COVID- 19 pandemic and with most factories having closed down, down-sized or reduced hours of engagement and subsequent remuneration, KICOTEC chose to adapt to the change in time and retain its employees.

The current demand, she says, is huge since the ravages from the pandemic are unprecedented, and meeting the need for the population of around 50 million people in the country is not a mean fit.

“We are sourcing the materials locally and RIVATEX is plugging in the supply of materials such as cotton, polypropylene and polyester of the desired density”, she says.

Musembi reiterates that the factory can produce top quality facemasks and other PPE’s as per the Ministry of health /WHO guidelines and in sufficient amounts.

He noted that in spite of the rigorous process and stringent standard requirements by KEBS, they had minimal defects in the masks they produced.

 According to KEBS specifications, all materials used in the composition of a mask shall be free from latex and glass. The elastic shall be a synthetic elastomeric material with an approximate width of 5 mm, and the length shall be such that the elastic fits comfortably around the head of the wearer.

The nosepiece shall be a flexible strip of aluminum, plastic or similar material of normal width -3 mm-, which enables the mask to be shaped comfortably around the nose and face.

The reinforcing strip shall be a strip of synthetic spun-bonded material; the masks shall be made with first-class workmanship throughout and shall be free from defects that affect their appearance or may affect their serviceability (or both), and free from marks, spots or stains incurred in the making up of the masks.

Kitui County Governor, Charity Ngilu says the county spent Ksh 168 million to establish KICOTEC, including buying the various sewing machines, building the structures and training the recruited staff.

“The purpose of establishing the factory was not only to create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs but also to retain the more than KSh 2.5 billion that parents in Kitui County spend buying school uniforms from manufactures in Nairobi and other counties”, she adds.

Governor Charity Ngilu explains that the county has an average of 486,000 students in both primary and secondary schools.   The factory will now save Ksh 2.43 billion annually, that makes up 90% of the county’s expenditure on the uniform that goes to neighbouring Thika, Nairobi and Kiambu counties.

The COVID-19 outbreak, Ngilu says, has opened opportunities for KICOTEC to play in the league of big boys who have been manufacturing PPEs for export. She added that local enterprises are plugging in the gap and becoming innovative as PPE shortages in the country pose tremendous challenges to the weak healthcare system in the wake of the pandemic.

“Even as we produce the masks  en masse, we are distributing free washable face masks to the vulnerable groups such as the elderly, disabled, bodaboda operators, mama mbogas among others,” the governor says.

She further notes that KICOTEC is offering a paradigm shift for the country’s textile industry by ensuring a ready market for cotton farmers locally and beyond, saying the re-opening of RIVATEX has addressed the gap of material shortage locally.

In post-COVID phase, Governor Ngilu says that the county will continue to offer capacity building through skills improvement amongst the youth to enable them create job opportunities not only for themselves but to open avenues for others.

“We just began last year and we have already proven that we can do it. In future, we will be bidding to manufacture massive quantities of uniforms for prisoners and prison warders,” she said.

The Governor noted that her administration is looking for funds to construct similar textile outfits in Mutomo and Mwingi towns. “We will venture into garment making such as uniforms for school children, administrators, and government agencies, among others”.

The factory has 145 modern electric sewing machines installed together with other embroidery and pressing machinery. It is modelled similar to the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) garment unit. It can run for 24 hours on different working shifts.

Kitui County Commissioner John Ondego says that Kitui County’s vision on wealth creation is clearly aligned to the Big Four Agenda pillar of manufacturing. Thus KICOTEC is wealth enabler and addresses unemployment among the youth, women and people living with disabilities.

 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending the use of cloth face masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in their recent publications.  

According to the WHO, people can transmit the virus to others while showing no signs or symptoms of ailment. The widespread use of facemasks by the public has slowed the spread of the virus.