The incorporation of pure copper into the fabric of the face mask acts as a barrier to the transmission of bacteria, fungi and viruses.
In the face of the growing coronavirus epidemic, a family business in Chile is offering a reusable face mask with fine threads of copper embedded into it. In just three weeks, it has increased production 25-fold after receiving tens of millions of orders from around the world.
The incorporation of pure copper into the fabric of the mask acts as a barrier to the transmission of bacteria, fungi and viruses.
The owners of Chile’s CoureTex, which obtained an “invention patent” in 2018, say it is the only company in the world to manufacture this type of product.
Its “antibacterial” and “antimicrobial” fabric - assured by British certification company Intertek and Brazil’s Senai - has also been used against the H1N1 virus.
From Valparaíso to the world
The Silva family’s small business, based in the coastal city of Valparaíso and headed by Mauricio, the founder’s son, is working against the clock in a bid to meet the deluge of orders that have collapsed its telephone line and website for three weeks now.
The coronavirus pandemic has completely revolutionized CoureTex. It was producing just 20,000 of these masks a month but is now approaching half a million, equivalent to a 25-fold increase, with a view to reaching one million units per month in April.
One of the mask’s distinguishing characteristics is that, unlike paper masks, it can be washed more than 50 times which, according to its creators, means that it lasts up to a year.
“We are an SME and we are living a dream: having a product with the demand it is generating ... we still haven’t been able to dimension it,” explained Mauricio Silva to EFE.
Now a global symbol of protection against Covid-19, the masks have sold out in many capital cities and Silva reports that several of his clients have sent thousands of them to countries like Australia and Spain and cities like Hong Kong.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 95,000 cases of infection have been recorded in 90 countries since the virus was identified in China in December and more than 3,300 people have died from the disease, mostly in China.
Since mid-February, when CoureTex received an order for six million masks to be sent to China, its machines and 15 employees have been unable to keep pace with demand.
“We are quoting for more than 50 million masks per week. If we had had them in stock, they would already have been sold,” said Silva, who has to offer customers far smaller quantities than they want.
The company sells both wholesale and retail, with a base price of 4,800 Chilean pesos (U$$5.82) per unit for small sales.
However, Silva knows that, on websites, they are being sold for over 25,000 pesos (US$30.29).
In the first few weeks, orders were mainly from overseas but, following confirmation of the first case of coronavirus in Chile, local demand has increased rapidly.
With the help of Chilean Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica, who wanted to showcase Chilean innovation in the context of the health emergency, the mask developed by the Silva family was on display at the recent PDAC show in Canada, one of the world’s most important copper mining trade shows.
Chile is the world’s largest copper producer and copper accounts for almost 50% of its exports.
Ten years of work
Ten years ago, Mauricio Silva and his father Oscar Silva identified an “unsatisfied” niche market: Chilean miners were being infected with fungi inside the mine and no one was producing clothing to protect them.
They embarked on a “complex” path that involved combining copper and cotton in a mechanical process. Today, CoureTex’s “antibacterial” products range from footwear to overalls, kitchen sponges and baby clothes.
“We didn’t discover gunpowder, we took something that existed in nature and incorporated it into a fabric. There are, in fact, records from antiquity of the use of copper to prevent water from becoming contaminated or to disinfect,” added Mauricio Silva.
To find out more about innovation and investment opportunities in Chile, read this article.