Face Masks: An Unexpected Triumph
From surgical face masks to branded designer masks, the evolution of face masks shows us how to win in a pandemic
Image via Brian McGowan
Yes, face masks aren’t new.
But before the pandemic happened, do you remember the last time you put one on?
Malaysians aren't strangers to face masks. Whenever the haze makes an appearance in our skies, many of us don face masks to protect ourselves from the dust particles in the air. Still, there were also many who decided they could go without it.
Generally, face masks were an accessory worn only by a certain demographic. Excluding those who were in the medical line, people who usually wore face masks were mainly celebrities who wished to shield themselves from paparazzi, edgy and cool street fashion enthusiasts, and people in countries such as China, South Korea and Japan whenever they felt unwell (it’s considered rude to cough and sneeze in public in their culture).
Image via Koreaboo
Image via Stephen Francis
Then, COVID-19 hit. On top of toilet paper and hand sanitizers, the panicked public began mass buying and hoarding face masks. They scrambled to the nearest pharmacies, and before long, there was a shortage of surgical face masks.
Shelves and storages went empty, and those who really needed them were faced with a major crisis. Authorities and doctors had to step in, and initially advised against healthy people wearing face masks.
Image via MalayMail
The new normal
Since the World Health Organization (WHO) released their statement on face masks, fabric face masks have become more popular. The guidelines by WHO about masks state that surgical masks should be reserved for healthcare professionals and those who display the disease’s symptoms. This is because a face mask does not prevent us from contracting the virus; rather, it helps slow the transmission rate, as a significant number of COVID-19 patients do not display the telltale symptoms of the disease. As the virus mainly spreads through airborne respiratory droplets, wearing a mask is essentially protecting others from yourself and in many places, it has become a social responsibility to wear masks when you go out. Just as this viral Twitter post put it:
Why are cloth face masks becoming more popular?
1. Boost employee morale
Image via @chris_kratovil/Twitter
Face masks have become more than a means of protection. In the United States, corporate companies are ordering face masks with their own company logo printed on it, not just in the interest of their employees' health and to abide by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC)'s standard operating procedures, but to encourage employees to return to work by providing a safe environment for them. There is also the function of maintaining professional dress codes in the workplace - it wouldn't be ideal for people walking around in multicoloured masks or ducks on their faces!
2. Social identity
Image via New Straits Times
As face masks have become a necessity in public, people are starting to consider face masks as a part of their outfit, face masks are increasingly becoming a way of individual expression. Take this Indian man for example: as someone who likes wearing gold jewellery, he commissioned a gold face mask worth RM17,000 to add on to his outfit.
3. Environmental friendly
Image via OceanAsia
There are also environmental concerns — disposable masks create more waste compared to reusable, washable masks. The CDC even suggests making home made masks from old t-shirts. It's definitely a good way to recycle and reuse material. Either way, whether you make your own face masks or choose to purchase it, the sustainability of cloth masks helps us to save money and the environment.
Catching on the trend
Fashion designers and brands are leveraging on the market and adding face masks as a new product to their brand. From local designer brands like Nala Designs and Bernard Chandran to luxury fashion houses Louis Vuitton and Off-White, everyone has started producing face masks since WHO advised the general public to use cloth masks instead of surgical masks, which should be reserved for those really in need of it.
Image via Haim Place
Adapting to win
When the pandemic started, Italian brand Faliero Sarti realised the sudden need for face masks early on, came up with a plan, and switched their main focus from producing scarves to producing face masks immediately. Selling fast, their business was able to continue to thrive despite difficult times.
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The future of face masks
Image via soranews24
Meanwhile in Japan, Uniqlo took a little longer to release their AIRism face masks, but were met with intense fervor and anticipation from the public — their masks were sold out nationwide as soon as it was available for purchase. As more brands enter the market, applying technology to give face masks a unique selling point will be necessary in order to gain a competitive edge over others.
Time and time again, we’ve emphasized on the importance of adapting to the times, and the face mask has proved just it — those who recognized and leveraged on the need for it have emerged victorious in the midst of the pandemic. Because sometimes, it isn't about inventing new products, but about taking what's available and in demand, and making it work for you and everyone else.