Mascarillas Béjar, an example of the conversion of the textile industry in the midst of a pandemic

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The Salamanca-based company Textiles Sánchez has stopped making pillowcases, has expanded its staff and is committed to making one million 'Made in Spain' masks every day

There are areas of Spain that, due to their tradition, have always been linked to a certain activity. Generation after generation, the inhabitants of these territories have been perfecting the technique and have dedicated themselves to this industrial activity. The Basque steel industry, Asturian and Leonese mining, Elche footwear ... or the textile industry of Béjar.

This Salamanca town, with just over 12.700 inhabitants, has the tradition of the textile industry imprinted on its identity. For centuries, the Bejaranos have dedicated themselves to it, becoming one of the main engines of this industry in our country. Their growth was spectacular, but over the decades they have also known how to reinvent themselves and overcome the ups and downs of the market, competition or poor communications that made exports difficult. And now, in the XXI century, the already touched Bejaran textile industry has suddenly encountered a new reality, a pandemic, which has completely paralyzed not only a region or a country, but the entire world.

Faced with this situation, with a total confinement and the economy paralyzed, Alberto Sánchez has taken that character of improvement and entrepreneurship from Bejarano and has decided to reconvert the activity of the family business that he presides, Fibras Textiles Sánchez. With the decree of the state of alarm, his usual activity, the manufacture of mattresses and pillowcases, was paralyzed and the situation of his company and, above all, of his six workers predicted an uncertain future. Meanwhile, infections were growing and in hospitals there was a shortage of masks among health professionals. In Spain, masks were hardly produced, they were imported from China and the market was collapsed worldwide. With this scenario, Alberto could not sit idly by.

Made in Salamanca

Although the scenario was not optimal, Alberto Sánchez decided to risk and undertake. It was time to bring the manufacture of sanitary material to Spain and what better than Béjar to do it, since in the Salamanca town, there is practically no family that has not been linked to the textile industry. With the idea, the desire and the workforce, only the most complicated thing was missing: to get around the bureaucratic obstacles and get the materials.

After doing a big market survey, the machinery needed to produce masks was only made in China. With the borders closed and prices on the rise, the entrepreneur from Bejarano managed to get hold of one of them, but when he arrived in Spain, the necessary material to make the masks had not been sent from the Asian country: cellulose. China had banned their export. The only Spanish company that manufactured this material had been closed and in bankruptcy for a few months, but Sánchez did not throw in the towel and managed, after a week of constant calls, to bring enough material from Israel, Egypt, Poland and Turkey.

And together with the shortage of materials, came bureaucratic obstacles and retentions in Spanish customs. With a country completely paralyzed, "processing files, audits or obtaining health licenses slowed down," they explain from the company. "The banks were closed, from the administrations we did not get the necessary permits because they could not work electronically ...", they add. But, finally, they have managed to start up the machinery to manufacture "up to 5.000 masks every hour", explains Alberto Sánchez, its director. Masks that are already marketed in our country under the signature Masks Béjar and that in a matter of days have gone viral on social networks and WhatsApp.

The pandemic, opportunity for reconversion

After an important investment in material and machinery, the workforce has not been lacking, since Béjar is an eminently textile town. They have had to adapt to new techniques and safer and sterilized work procedures, since all employees work with full PPE and the production line is in an isolated environment. “At the beginning the employees had to be trained, but the workforce was there. Now we are producing level 2 surgical masks with maximum filtration without problems ”, Sánchez acknowledges. With the reconversion, Fibras Textiles Sánchez has not only managed to avoid ERTE after stopping the production of pillows, but in addition to keeping the six permanent employees it has created another 24 jobs.

Sánchez faces the future with the hope of reactivating an industry with a long tradition in the area and being able to supply the Spanish with sanitary material manufactured in Spain. "We cannot depend on other countries 100%, at least Europe cannot afford it, and this serious health crisis has shown it," he says. For this reason, little by little he plans to increase production, until he has six active machines, working 24-hour shifts, seven days a week, to produce one million masks a day, up to 30 million a month. And while waiting for a new machine to arrive, they will shortly begin with the manufacture of high-protection FPP2 masks.

Masks more necessary than ever, not only among healthcare personnel, but for the general population. They are here to stay, at least for a time. For this reason, Mascarillas Béjar have decided to launch a design and brand line with Spanish and international firms. The idea is to market completely safe and effective masks with exclusive designs thanks to the four-color printing on the last textile layer of the mask. For this they will have the best national and international fashion designers, with whom they have already initiated contacts.

For now, Béjar has already managed to give a small boost to part of that textile industry. There are months of work ahead and the idea of ​​diversifying production with other types of masks and even gloves. And once the borders are opened, the export will begin to different European countries with which they are already beginning to close agreements. Fibras Textiles Sánchez is an example of reconversion that, who knows, if it will mark the path of other companies in the area and thus recover that muscle on the banks of the River Body of Man, where 50 years ago there were up to 100 textile companies. A necessary reconversion to face the new challenges that arise after the COVID-19 crisis.

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