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When A Plane Carrying Millions of Face Masks Landed in Helsinki, Anu Kivelä Knew That Medanta Was Headed In The Right Direction

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A plane full of face masks and protective coats arrived in Finland at the end of April. This made Anu Kivelä, CEO of Medanta, reflect on what the company had learned from the coronavirus crisis: “At least the fact that the design and manufacture of safe antimicrobial clothes is the right direction for Medanta,” Kivelä writes in her blog article.

The last Saturday of April was one of the most memorable days of my life. I sighed with relief when I received a text message announcing that the plane had landed. Getting things to that point had been a huge and demanding undertaking. The plane brought protective coats and high-standard face masks to Finland. They have already been delivered to our customers.

When Taina Steiner and I founded Medanta in 2008, not even in our wildest dreams were we planning to book a plane from China to Finland for our products, nor were we planning to manufacture face masks. Our goal was to make life better for Finns by producing beautiful, functional, high-quality work clothes for the healthcare sector and nursing homes. At first, the public sector was quite suspicious of us – after all, advocates of beauty have never been taken very seriously in Finland. However, we found partners quickly in the private sector. Visionary healthcare companies began to see beautiful and functional work clothes as their success factors.

Pandemics were not even a distant concern when we expanded our business operations in 2015 and began to develop antimicrobial work clothes for hospitals and restaurants. We cooperated with researchers and infection specialists to a great extent. In recent years, the general public has also become interested in hospital-acquired infections and the loss of effectiveness of antibiotics. Around 750 people die from treatment-related infections in Finland each year. In other words, a harmless procedure in a hospital may have very unfortunate consequences.

In addition to developing antimicrobial clothes in Finland, we engaged in close cooperation with Chinese textile industry experts and factories. During the coronavirus crisis, this ten-year cooperation and our Chinese partners’ expertise have proven invaluable. The competition for protective equipment in China is beyond intense, and a huge country may compete for the same resources as Medanta, a small company. Now that we cannot travel to China, we can trust that all the products we order meet our requirements. For example, we expect our partners to take videos and photos of the manufacture of the products at the factory.

As is often the case in good business, the idea for face masks came from one of our customers. Henna Rantanen, Procurement Manager at Pihlajalinna, contacted us in February to place an order for 15,000 face masks. She said that the pandemic would change things rapidly and that we should be prepared. To be honest, this seemed a little unreal to me at the time. After all, many experts were still talking about seasonal flu. But we took on the task right away, and I remember saying to Taina Steiner, my business partner, that even though we always aim for perfection, we must outdo ourselves this time. Our experts thought about the materials, and our patternmaker prepared a prototype of the face mask.

Suddenly, calls started coming in from other customers as well, and they seemed to be in dire straits. For example, care companies were worried about their customers, because the advice provided by experts was so contradictory. We were constantly on the phone to China. The prices of scrubs skyrocketed in an instant, and suitable materials were difficult to find. Even the most experienced procurement professionals were confused, because the normal supply chains were no longer working.

During the coronavirus crisis, we have manufactured millions of disposable face masks and hundreds of thousands of protective coats in China. In addition, we manufactured 40,000 fabric face masks before May and 120,000 more during May. There have also been delays and challenges. There was not enough room for all the protective coats on the plane, so some of them are being transported by train from Shanghai to Finland and will arrive here in two or three weeks. In addition to running our operations in China, we are running our normal business operations in Finland. Our antimicrobial work clothes are now in high demand, as work clothes are changed more often than usual because of the coronavirus.

And, of course, even in these difficult circumstances, we are true to Medanta’s basic idea: an appreciation of beauty and design. We will soon introduce a safe designer face mask. We will begin with six different designs, and will be expanding the selection continuously. People will want to protect themselves when the restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus are lifted. In China, protection is already mandatory. We opened an international online store in May.

Here at Medanta, we have always believed in the long-term development of antimicrobial products and in the quality of protective clothes. What has this crisis taught us? That we are headed in the right direction.

Face masks are now available to order: check them out here