"It's just a flu, we have it under control," words that rolled over Maggie de Block's lips earlier this year, in March. Not much later, it became painfully clear that Belgium had seriously underestimated the coronavirus and was short of protective equipment. POMAX founder and CEO Xavier De Vil decided to intervene by relying on his extensive network of suppliers to set up ProMasks, a webshop for mouth masks, handgels and more. "I didn't need 8 ministers to arrange it," he says.
How did you realize that mouth masks are so essential?
“At the beginning of March I went on a business trip to Vietnam. At that time it was still seen as a normal flu here in Belgium. But when I arrived in Vietnam, everyone was walking around with mouth masks. I first thought that everyone was exaggerating thinking that it was just "an ordinary flu". I noticed that people were avoiding me because I was not wearing one. Out of respect, I also started wearing a mouth mask and in a short time I learned how essential they are. That is why I started looking for reliable factories because I already realized that it would also become very important in Europe. Once back in Belgium, I created ProMasks and started importing. ”
Have you encountered many difficulties importing protective equipment?
“I never encountered any problems with the supply. My main job consists of importing goods for POMAX and there is no real difference between importing a pillow or a mouth mask. Everything follows the same logistics route so I could arrange this quickly. I did not need 8 ministers to arrange it. ”
Speaking of ministers; what do you think of our government's approach?
“I can’t believe it that they experienced so much difficulty importing mouth masks. The government didn’t know what they were doing. For example, they could have involved belgian companies into this deal, or ask a company in our industry for contacts. Because if you have the right contacts, it can go fast. Because like I said; there was enough supply. Instead, they were far too late and made bad purchases.”
What is your opinion about the decisions they made regarding mouth masks?
“In Belgium they started to communicate that mouth masks are ‘highly recommended', but people don't take that seriously. If you "strongly recommend" to pay your taxes, no one will pay their taxes either. The virus is still not gone and it just needs a little push to explode into another drama. During the summer the risk will be smaller - everyone is outside and there are no big events. But in the colder months it will come back back fast. You don't have to be a doctor to see that a mouth mask seriously reduces the risk of infection. ”
Finally: is there a difference between the mouth masks of the government and those of ProMasks?
"Sure. I even dare to say that the government's mouth masks are not good. They might be good in terms of protection, but not in terms of comfort. They consist of cotton and polyester, but polyester is not elastic, which means that the mask can move easily. On top of that, polyester is not a natural fabric: you start to sweat, that air is trapped and after 15 minutes it starts to smell bad. It’s the same with t-shirts, you don't put on a polyester T-shirt in the summer, you put on a 100% cotton T-shirt. For the same reason mouth mask should be 100% cotton, like ours. Our masks are actually the best I have seen so far, which was validated by the Centex label. ”