A few months ago, most of us did not know where to buy face masks. These days, it’s hard to walk ten steps without seeing one.
Masks have quickly transitioned into an incontestable necessity during the era of the coronavirus. You would have to think hard about another commodity that has become so commonplace so fast. Previously available only in select drugstores, masks have found their way into supermarkets, e-shopping sites and into almost every single home.
Quite unsurprisingly, this turned the fashion industry upside down. Struggling with production capabilities and supply chains, as well as customer’s buying capabilities, some brands have chosen to turn masks into a new opportunity. Christian Siriano, Rachel Comy and Armani were amongst the first to use their production facilities to produce non medical grade masks. This was a strategy not only to be charitable, but also to keep their businesses afloat during the economic crisis.
For other well established brands that could not afford to be so flexible, the initial days were a struggle. Adding on to this, for the first month, there was little information available on the effectiveness on non-medical grade masks against the novel coronavirus. This made it hard for brands to start production without confidence of science backing them, as well as for consumers to buy without the risk of being seen as ignorant.
Although many fashion labels are opting to cash in on the surge of masks, one segment of fashion – the luxury labels – have steered clear of this trend. While Louis vuitton and Prada have all started production on masks using their facilities, they reserve them for medical professionals only. Selling them to consumers, especially at a high price tag in line with their brand identity, would come at the risk of allegations of insensitivity and exploitation during a pandemic.
However, even for the smaller fashion brands that have jumped on the mask bandwagon, the transition was never easy. After all, masks are meant to be a safety device, and that leave the brands with an immense responsibility to get it right or risk the lives of numerous consumers. Production needs to be efficient but also quick, while following all safety protocols within their own facilities and taking care that the delivery of masks is also carried out in a safe manner.
People need to feel protected, and that trust is extremely important for sales.
However, one cannot think about this boost in masks without questioning what would happen to this fashion category once the much-awaited vaccine is finally on the market. As reliant as brands have been to use the masks to keep their businesses afloat, the transition of stopping mask production would have to be just as quick as starting it was, if not quicker. While that may be true for most Western countries, one must call to mind that Japanese, Chinese and Korean cultures frequently see people sporting makss on the streets, regardless of a pandemic. Air pollution as well as epidemics such as the SARS and MERS have left mask-wearing a habit in these countries. It may be a bit cynical, but definitely not unrealistic to think that sort of situation will permeate into other cultures as well. With the rise in technological advances, the pollution rates do not seem to be slowing down, and globalisation is ever expanding with more and more exchange of people as well as commodities across the world.
Coupled with the American sense of fashion and individuality, fun and quirky masks may be here to stay even after the Post-Covid era, much like they have in East-Asian cultures.