Medical gowns from Albania: ‘Our cooperation was a stroke of luck’

Christian Schneider was really planning to set up operations in Africa, but COVID-19 put paid to that. In this interview, he explains why he began working in Albania instead – together with GIZ.

Christian Schneider and his brother Sebastian manage PS Trade, a company in the health sector that is also active in developing countries and emerging economies. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Schneider has been working with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Albania, supporting the textile industry. In this interview, he tells us about his experience of the cooperation arrangements.

How did you decide to get involved in Albania? Wasn’t your plan before the pandemic to set your company up on the African market?

Yes, it was. Our idea was to go to Africa in 2020 to set up operations there, for example providing microloans for women entrepreneurs. But then suddenly, travel was off the agenda. However, we were keen to use our expertise and our network in emerging economies during the pandemic. We had already been in touch with GIZ, but the Business Scouts working in business associations put us in touch with the textile industry in Albania. They were in the right place at the right time; GIZ’s network enabled us to start producing protective gowns for the German medical market.

What was the situation in Albania before the pandemic hit? 

Before the pandemic, Albania’s textile industry relied heavily on orders from Italy. When COVID-19 arrived in Europe early in 2020, those orders almost completely dried up, and massive job losses loomed. At the same time, demand for protective equipment for medical staff, such as protective gowns, soared overnight. As a company trading in the health sector, PS Trade quickly realised that there was an alternative market here and that we could also help people in Albania.

What is the current state of production?

Since it switched to making protective gowns, our Albanian production partner, EFA Solution, has manufactured around 10 million gowns for customers in Germany. Its current capacity is around 1.5 million gowns a month. By getting involved, we have helped protect around 1,000 jobs during the pandemic. Our next step is to position ourselves on the European market as a supplier of high-quality products.

You were working with a GIZ project locally. How did that work in practice?

GIZ supported EFA Solution in getting the protective equipment properly certified: you have to manufacture to the right standards to sell on the European market. Our cooperation was a stroke of pure luck. Without major funding and within a very short time – just three months – we were able to achieve a huge amount simply by having the right network.

What has struck you most about this extraordinary period?

I’m a fully qualified master chef, but then my career took quite a different direction. My experience in Albania was the same: being flexible and adaptable to new situations opens new doors. But often, you need to start with yourself.

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