Swedish clothing giant Hennes & Mauritz (HMRZF 2.85%) is has started producing safety masks to aid healthcare workers in the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus, starting with 100,000 units shipped into the virus hotbeds of Spain and Italy.

What is H&M doing?

In an interview with Swedish business daily Dagens Nyheter, executives updated investors on how the virus is affecting H&M's business around the world.

"The situation is serious, for us and for societies in general," said recently appointed CEO Helena Helmersson. "We see the consequences of what's happening when the business is halted. We are trying to act quickly based on the situation as we observe it."

Photo of a fabric-based medical safety mask.

Image source: Getty Images.

As a part of that effort to soften the coronavirus crisis, H&M is using its manufacturing pipeline to produce protective face masks. Designed to comply with safety standards from both the European Union and the World Health Organization, these masks are not expected to contribute to the company's bottom line.

"Many are trying to profit from the situation and produce items of low quality," said CFO Nils Vinge. "That's unfortunate." 

H&M brought in safety experts from the EU and WHO to assist with mask designs. Factories in China have produced 100,000 units so far and the first shipments were made on Thursday.

H&M also reported first-quarter results early Friday, showing the direct effects of the coronavirus on H&M's own business. Of the company's 5,100 stores, 3,800 were closed at the end of March and the second quarter looks dark. Nevertheless, the company is committed to delivering low-cost, high-quality safety masks where they are needed.

"The most important thing is to stop the spread of the infection and that economies start to improve again," said financial analyst Maria Landeborn from Danske Bank. "Otherwise, it won't matter how deeply you're cutting costs."