God only knows how CYC and Singapore sewed 300,000 masks for migrant workers
Salt&Light // June 26, 2020, 7:32 pm
Joseph Schooling and family also participated in the mask-making cause to benefit migrant workers. Photo from May Yim Schooling's Facebook page. All other photos courtesy of CYC Made to Measure or from their Facebook page.
One person’s faith was all it took, and a glorious overflow of masks manifested.
If Ezekiel 22:30 could be contextualised for CYC Tailor’s coronavirus experience, it might in paraphrase read something like: “I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before Me for the land …” – and found a woman.
“During my quiet time, the Holy Spirit prompted me to get our production staff to make masks for the foreign workers.”
Hearing a clear call from God, Fong Loo Fern, managing director of the homegrown tailoring business, responded in simple obedience and spearheaded a ground-up initiative to get 300,000 reusable masks sewn for migrant workers, even before COVID-19 was found to have spread through the foreign worker dormitories.
Her sewing team was ready to roll with skill and supplies in lightning-quick, on-target time, just as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made the announcement on April 3 that Singapore would be entering a Circuit Breaker and recommended the wearing of reusable masks for everyone in the community.
The CYC hands and hearts were added to – no, multiplied – when multitudes of volunteers responded to Fong’s invitation to competent sewists from the community to join them in their mammoth task.
The urgency was of the moment, but CYC’s readiness to respond to the crisis had long ago been built in to its ethos. Prudence meant that there were bales of spare cloth in the back room to turn into masks; providence meant that the requisite leadership and infrastructure were already in place.
MCS: How did COVID-19 affect business?
Fong: Typically, retail business slows down after the Chinese New Year holidays. Our retail sales were badly hit after Singapore announced DORSCON Orange (in February). People stopped shopping as they were concerned about the infection and economic slowdown.
“Looking back at what transpired, I will say that the Lord has definitely been directing my path.”
I was worrying about having work for our production staff and paying our bills. It felt like we were falling into a deep chasm. We got our retail staff to use up their annual leave. We pleaded with the landlords to reduce rental. In March, we told everyone to go on four-day work week and take a 15% cut in salary. I took a 30% cut in my salary.
Thank God we still had our B2B business, as our corporate clients still needed to replenish their uniforms. But this line was also affected as work stoppage in China stalled many of our projects.
Running a business is like doing an Ironman challenge. We must be prepared to be adaptable and flexible to the changing landscape and environment.
However, we must also be mindful of our capabilities and resources and not overstretch ourselves.
During this period, we looked at how to diversify our business. Making masks seemed like a natural extension – although, at that time, I did not think that there would be much demand for reusable masks as we were told that it was not necessary to wear masks. Regardless, we started to research and prototyped different designs that had the best fit.
MCS: How did you get the epiphany to make masks for migrant workers?
Fong: Three weeks before Circuit Breaker was announced (on April 3), Doreen Tan, CEO of Textile and Fashion Training Centre, asked if I could provide her with fabrics as she wanted her students to sew masks to give to charity. This was the epiphany; it gave me the idea that we could mobilise volunteers to sew masks.
During my quiet time, the Holy Spirit also prompted me to get our production staff to make masks to donate to foreign workers. They were my first thought as I have always been grateful for the work they do in Singapore.
MCS: What happened next?
Fong: We believed that there would be a demand for masks made from good quality cotton fabrics. We thought it would be a good use of fabrics left over from tailoring our shirts. As we believe in zero-waste, we had stored up a large quantity of leftover fabrics that were not large enough to make a garment, but too large to throw away.
In late March, we developed a mask design with our production team. We finalised the prototype on Tuesday, April 1. We prepared our Facebook posts and were planning to post on April 3.
On the afternoon of April 3, PM Lee Hsien Loong announced the Circuit Breaker that would take effect on April 7. His other major announcement was that the community was now encouraged to wear a reusable face mask (and conserve surgical masks for healthcare workers).
We launched our masks at the right time. But we were extremely worried about how to activate the mask challenge, as everyone had to stay at home when the Circuit Breaker kicked in on April 7.
I connected with MP Sim Ann that evening to share with her the idea of our mask challenge. She was very excited about the idea as she realised that there was a need for masks for foreign workers. She put us in touch with the Migrant Workers’ Centre, which helped get our challenge underway.
MCS: How do you explain such perfect timing?
Fong: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Looking back at what transpired, I will say that the Lord has definitely been directing my path. The timing for the launch of our masks was perfect – on the same day PM Lee made the announcement about reusable masks. The response to our e-commerce site that weekend was beyond our expectations.
Our appeal for volunteers to help sew masks for the migrant workers came just before the massive spread of the virus in the dorms. We couldn’t have anticipated that an idea to help would have generated that much interest (with the public and the press). Only God’s grace and perfect timing could have given us that.
MCS: Did you expect the response you got when you issued the call for volunteer sewists?
Fong: More than 4,000 people who were keen to sew signed up. However, logistically, we weren’t unable to work with everyone. Besides individuals who stepped up to volunteer, we had organisations like Fairmont Hotel, Tzu Chi Singapore, Singapore Prison Services, Centre for Domestic Employees and Textile and Fashion Federation who mobilised their members to help us sew the masks. I was totally overwhelmed by the positive response.
MCS: How did you feel, seeing the people in Singapore rallying around those hardest hit by COVID-19?
Fong: This mask challenge has shown that there are many kind-hearted Singaporeans who are willing to help. We had people who wrote in on behalf of their mothers or their aunts, volunteering to help.
We had someone who wanted to sew to give the masks to migrant workers staying within her estate. We had people who wanted to sew and give to hawkers or needy families.
The liaison person in the Singapore Prison Services told us that the prisoners felt privileged to participate in the sewing, as they were able to contribute to help others despite their circumstances.
My team at CYC have been so encouraged by all these volunteers and were very grateful for all the help.
MCS: Where do you get your strength?
Fong: A sister in Christ shared with me that God gave her a vision of a soaring eagle (Isaiah 40:31). She assured me that I will not grow weary even in this time of crisis, but will be strong and will overcome. When we are in a storm, it can get scary and our faith is tested. But, if we trust in the Lord and remain positive, we can overcome. It is really important to know where we can draw our strength from.
Check back soon for two testimonies of “God moments” in the lives of CYC’s Fong Loo Fern and her niece, Cara Chiang.