Cheap, hygienic and sustainable: mattresses from Indian fashion designer Lakshmi Menon also generate revenue for rural women.
Fashion designer Lakshmi Menon, 46, learned at the height of the pandemic in the Indian state of Kerala that each new Covid care center must have 50 beds.
Mattresses have been in short supply. The mattress had to be burned each time a patient was discharged. “I thought, ‘That’s a lot of mattresses and a lot of burns,'” says Menon.
The solution for Menon was to collect plastic parts from factories that make PPE from the mountains – all the little pieces that remain after cutting. The women then braid the pieces up to 6 feet long into rope-like braids. The braids are zigzagged and the ends are connected. For just 300 rupees (£3) – half the price of a standard mattress – the result is a lightweight, comfortable, washable and hygienic mattress.
Arayankav women, near Kochi, where Menon lives on a rubber plantation, get work, protect the environment, and receive mattresses from Covid clinics – “shayya” in Sanskrit.
When she went to Kochi in February and saw children sleeping on the streets, she had the idea of using scraps of waste.
She visited a friend who operates a design shop a couple of days later and saw piles of fabric scraps in different sizes.
That’s when I thought I could make mattresses for the homeless using braiding.
You can use any single piece of fabric in various sizes with braiding. It is possible to add even the smallest piece and everybody knows how to tie a braid, she says.
She made 20 mattresses in March and distributed them to families who were homeless. The closure then came. Overnight, her friends in design and fashion lost their business. Staff have been laid off and things have looked grim.
Until July, when she went to a friend’s tailor shop and saw he had begun making PPE, Menon forgot about the fabric mattresses.
There was a mountain of plastic components in the corner.
He lit up Menon’s eyes.
I took them and discovered that they were smoother, softer and dust-free than scraps of cloth.
It was the best material that I could have ordered,’ she says.
Her friend was pleased when the fabric scraps were accepted by Menon. Since burning was out of the question, he was grappling with how to dispose of them.
At the same time, Kerala ordered the development of 50-bed Covid centers across the state, overwhelmed by the pandemic, and village administrations scrambled to find enough mattresses.
“everyone deserves a good night’s sleep.”everyone deserves a good night’s sleep.
Usually, the 1.7 million homeless in India sleep on the floor, generally on a thin mat.
Indian students who are part of Enactus, the global non-profit organization founded by KPMG, are working to make the mattress widely available.
Ishartek Pabla, Enactus operations manager at the Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, says, “We think yoga centers might also be interested in buying them because they are soft, lightweight and easy to roll up,”
It is doubtful that Menon will face a shortage of raw materials.
India is now the world’s second-largest producer of PPE, with 4.5 million pieces a day manufactured by more than 1,000 producers, the country’s textile ministry reported this week.
Shayya Menon was picked up by the U.N. Staff, who will include it in a list of Covid’s creative ideas that can be repeated easily.
Several Indian companies have reached out to her as well. “These big companies need to meet their social responsibility goals, and the mattress offers a great way to provide income to rural women in a sustainable way, without requiring any equipment. Nothing, really. Just a little space,” says Menon.
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