The Lombardy province of Bergamo is the Italian epicentre of the dramatic spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, with thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths. But for many years the Orobic population has been known for its tenacity and stubbornness, and its ability to react with great intensity and solidarity. A number of local organisations have put themselves on the front line of helping the community. Among them, the well known Santini, based in Lallio.
The historic brand of cycling and triathlon technical clothing – which has worked in partnership with the UCI for more than 30 years and produces the UCI World Champions’ rainbow jerseys – is ready to convert a large part of its production chain to the practicalities of addressing one of the most urgent issues in today’s emergency: the shortage of protective face masks.
A race against time
Within just a few days Santini prepared a high quality prototype that is currently being examined by the Politecnico di Milano (Milan Polytechnic) to ensure it obtains all the necessary certifications ahead of starting production in large quantities as soon as possible.
We discussed the initiative with Paola Santini, the company's Marketing Director, sister of the CEO Monica and daughter of the founder Pietro. "The idea was born on Monday 16th March,” she told us, “when the new standard for protective devices came out, with the chance to create a sort of self-certification on the masks based on a series of criteria established in a recent decree. The aim was to give the opportunity to other manufacturers to create a product that can no longer be found. I looked at my sister and we said to each other: ‘Let's see if we can do something’. We live in the eye of the storm, we feel this emergency on our skin.”
Santini worked closely with Sitip, another Bergamo-based company: “They are one of our longest-standing suppliers. We selected the right fabric together and we consulted with doctors and local ATS (Agenzia di Tutela della Salute - Health Protection Agency) to design the best shape and structure. In a race against time, we sent our best prototype to Milan Polytechnic and meanwhile we have continued working on other solutions. We conducted various internal checks, but we wanted to obtain more rigorous and scientific tests including the microbiological test, something that we could not perform by ourselves”.
Reflecting the dramatic situation in Italy, Paola Santini explained: “The rumour about our project spread and we received hundreds of calls not only from the press, but also from hospitals, charities and the Protezione Civile (Civil Protection). The situation is desperate, in the province they need masks even without certification. For example, the Intensive Care Unit of Sondrio are still waiting for stocks of masks that have been held up somewhere, since all customs are closed, so they organised a network with local authorities and cotton companies for urgent supplies of new ones.”
A washable and sterilisable mask
What is the difference between the most common face masks and the model Santini is working on?
“Our prototype is reusable, sterilisable and washable up to 90-95 degrees with the integrity of the fabric being guaranteed for use up to ten times. It is made of dense and very compact polyester fabric, with a treatment called “Acqua Zero” (Zero Water) which makes the mask completely waterproof.
“To give more value and effectiveness we used a double layer of the fabric. In addition, we have worked to create a close fit to the user’s face, so we included a nose support and elastic bands that reach the back of the head and not only the ears. “This solution gives several benefits: it fits perfectly on the most pertinent part of the face and it guarantees greater comfort even after hours and hours of uninterrupted use, for example for those who are still working during the emergency”.
Santini estimate they would be able to produce 10,000 masks per day and have already received requests for more than 100,000, although the demand appears likely to increase exponentially. They will give initial priority to Bergamo, that is the most urgent task, then to the province and then the rest of the region and the country. Above all, Santini are ready to do this for free:
“We don't earn a penny. We decided to put a price that only covers the cost of the technical fabric – high quality and Italian – and production. One of the reasons why there are no more masks in Italy is because nobody does them, they are not profitable”.
Santini have opened up a new pathway of solidarity, based on clear ideals: “We just want to help; producing masks is not our original job and it wasn't easy to set up the project. But here in Bergamo we are hard workers and we all have a friend or a relative affected by the virus. We don't know how and when the emergency will end and what will happen next. But with these kinds of initiatives we believe we can give hope and inspiration to other organisations to follow us. Just in Bergamo there are already two other companies ready to convert”.