It began with people wearing masks as protective gear against air pollution that saw a spike in recent times in many parts of the country. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, masks have become a necessity, so much so that medical stores and other suppliers are having a hard time meeting its burgeoning demand.

Amid the shortage of supply of N95 masks came in benefactors who took the initiative to stitch and distribute masks to those in need. Celebrated fashion designers, from Masaba Gupta to Ritu Kumar, among many others, shifted their existing resources to non-surgical, three-layered reusable mask product.

 

These masks looked different — made of coloured or printed fabric, they were nothing close to the monotonous black, grey or white masks that we were buying earlier. The branded products came to be available in attractive designs, packaged at varying price range, as people began to opt for colourful designer masks.

 

How did masks become more than a preventive gear?

Until now, masks were considered a marker for East Asian people who would wear them in public. The custom is known to have originated in Japan around early 20th, following influenza pandemic post World War I. With the outbreak of 2002 SARS and 2006 bird flu panic, the practice came to be adopted by Asian immigrants in the West too.

Today, masks are not just restricted to a certain community; they are the new “normal” for all of us, blurring divides. It is further a sign of civic responsibility. Payal said, “Masks are definitely for the purpose of protection but it is also a sign of showing that you care for the community.”

Now that masks are an integral part of our lives, they could well be turned into an accessory, suggests fashion designer Ritu Kumar, who told indianexpress.com, “I think now that we have to learn to live with the virus, the problem is that if we go out of our homes, we’d need to take protection, therefore, the mask becomes a necessity. Having said that, it doesn’t have to be a very simple looking accessory, therefore, we’re creating masks that complement our outfits, with printed fine fabrics which can be mixed and matched with garments in anyone’s closet.” Ritu’s fashion house is currently making not couture but “casual masks” with specialised fabrics.

Masks, like clothes, are becoming a way of self-expression. “It is time we accept mask as a part of normal life and wearing a solid colour plain mask gets monotonous. People are opting for designer masks as a way of self-expression. Breathability and functionality are paramount but printed and textured masks are a way to convey your feelings and comforting even for the people who see your mask,” remarked Payal.

designer masksMany people are now making and selling designer masks. Here are masks made by Suchita. (Source: Suchi Ta/Facebook)

Opening up employment opportunities

You need not go to established designer brands to buy masks. With the Health Ministry releasing guidelines on how to stitch a cotton face mask at home, many enthusiasts took the opportunity to start their own venture either from scratch or as a way to revive their existing business. The numerous sellers on social media are proof.

“I am skilled in stitching so I just stitched some masks while sitting at home during the lockdown. I was also aware that there were small-scale tailors and migrants who were out of work. So, I decided to rope them in as I started,” said Suchita, who is now reaching out to her customers on social media and through word-of-mouth. “We now have more than 20 people working with us. Our team is making 400-500 masks daily. The masks are priced between Rs 30-150,” she said.

What kind of masks are people buying? “Many ask for customised masks with memes or quotes printed on them so we make them accordingly,” she added. Her next target is branding the masks.

 

Price of designer masks

There has been an ongoing debate about capitalising on masks–which is now an essential item to be bought by people of all income groups–and selling them at a high price. Designer masks on Amazon start at around Rs 299 for a pack of three and goes up to Rs 900, depending on quality and print. Just as any other luxury item. Fab India, for instance, is selling pleated masks in a set of four for around Rs 170, while printed masks are being sold for Rs 150 each. Masaba’s designer masks, on the other hand, start at Rs 750 each.

designer masksFab India is selling printed masks

“According to me, masks should be offered at a very reasonable price point so it’s something that you’re adding on to the collection,” said Ritu.

For Suchita, it is about providing suitable income to her workers in these trying times. She said, “One needs to understand that it is not just about selling masks but also providing sustenance to the people who are working with us and are grappling with the crisis.”

For now, face masks are here to stay, and so are designer masks. Perhaps that is what may help people come to terms with the post-COVID-19 way of living, to take the constant fear of health off their minds, and to embrace it as just another clothing item.

Article by-Bhavika gulrajani

image courtesy – google,pinterest.