The global fight against COVID 19 seriously impacted Hiko operations as well. Due to quarantine policies and isolations measures in pretty much all Europe rafting companies and specialized equipment stores were forced to close. Our family business has been cut off from key customers who were forced to cancel all their orders. Together with many other factories we stand in front of a big challenge – to secure work for our people in times when paddling gear is on a bottom of a shopping list.
It was early March when Natalie brought the idea to produce face masks to her parents Ivan and Marcela, the Hiko owners. At the time wearing a mask was not obligatory, but its ability to stop the spread of the diseases was known to many. Natalie found a simple tutorial on-line explaining how to stitch face masks at home, while her sister Amalie picked up some cotton from Textile Mountain, a fabric company from Prague generously offering fabric to everyone wanting to produce face masks.
The initial idea was to produce couple hundred pieces for senior home in Chrudim, make some for friends and family. Next batch went to kids delivering food to seniors trapped in quarantine. Our seamstresses then produce enough for themselves, all our employees and all the people in Jiloviste, a village where the factory is located.
Powered by the moto “My mask protects you, your mask protects me” pretty much the whole country sat down to sewing tables. Slowly we started to believe that by producing enough face masks we could overcome the tough period when the sales of paddling equipment took a hard hit. Thanks to tireless effort and commitment of our workers we are managing to cover expenses.
We are able to produce couple of thousands of face masks a day. The bottle neck is the binding machines that we use to produce tying straps. We only have two of those so we are trying to maximize the efficiency. Seamstress Dana sits at the binding machine long after her regular shift. Right when she gets up Monica, our sales manager takes her place. Then Evicka from the front desk takes over and finally Marcela has a chance to re-live the company’s beginnings when she sits at the machine long after midnight.
Our developers contribute as well. We are constantly playing with new methods of construction to avoid binding machines and increase our output. The fit and comfort of the masks progressed as well. At this point we are producing V4, a giant leap forward from V1. We are constantly searching for better technologies as well. The University of Technology in Liberec has developed a nanomembrane filter that multiplies the effectiveness of the mask. After initial administrative hiccups we managed to order some and next week we are going to be putting those in V-five!
Being used to wide variety and high complexity of products for our employees is stitching face masks a bit mind-numbing, but they are happy to contribute their skills and keep Hiko running along.
So wish us luck, stay safe and wear Czech masks!;)