By Joe Mello
As the COVID 19 Pandemic causes economic havoc, consumer spending has focused on essential food and supplies. But since the beginning of the month, the Long Beach and county health orders requiring Level 1 masks to go grocery shopping or be in public places while social distancing have turned those masks into an essential item.
Those health orders have created a mask demand that has fueled a whole new cottage industry and for some a new fashion accessory and branding opportunity.
Within days of COVID 19 becoming a nationwide crisis, Americans became familiar with the acronym PPE- personal protective equipment. The pandemic had created shortages of PPE for frontline healthcare workers and first responders. During the beginning of social distancing amid the ongoing health-grade mask shortage, people started wearing their own real or home-made masks on public. Not interested in trend setting, these early adopters clearly had safety in mind.
The first week in April the local edict came down that mandated masks for everyone and overnight that necessity spawned invention. On Nextdoor posts, Zoom happy hour meetings and online market places, mask makers and buyers were everywhere. Masks now mandatory were in big demand and people across Long Beach and L.A. County responded as did companies looking to help or keep employees working. As the mandate for wearing masks in public spread across the country, so did the demand.
Here in Long Beach, Red Eye Media was ready with not just masks, but a packaged Long Beach themed mask and t-shirt COVID combo for $25.00 proclaiming “Long Beach vs COVID 19”. According to the company’s web store, proceeds are slated to supply nurses with “food and supplies”.
Even State Senator Lena Gonzalez showed one off a Red Eye Media Long Beach mask on her Twitter account.
Madison Avenue and other entrepreneurs were not far behind creating a new fashion staple and an Instagram or selfie statement piece. Social media platforms became a place to show-off mask conformity and for some style. Mask wearing citizens have also taken to social media to ostracize non-wearing citizens and places of business they see not enforcing the option not to serve the occasional unmasked patron.
A selfie of Australian model Jessica Hart wearing her Louis Vuitton leather mask birthday present from her boyfriend NASCAR racer James Kirham helped start a social media mask craze. Matching mask and clothing ensembles have since become a social media staple.
With men required to cover-up too, mask logo placement for men or manly maskshave become a thing. While home mask making often included fabric with a sports team logo, the NBA was the first major league to offer official team logo embossed masks. The team logo masks are available online from the NBA Store for both NBA and WNBA teams. The current price is $14.99 plus when you order by April 24 you get a 25% discount with the code on the website.
NBA Store mask webpage
American sportswear company Ball and Buck is featuring a camouflaged mask on its website. For every $20 mask sold, the company donates one to a hospital. Ball and Buck have a status page the company updates on the production of the masks in Los Angeles.
Ball and Buck webpage for camouflaged mask
Skateware company Emerica sold out of its $12.99 company logo mask geared to Generation Z skateboarders . High end Hawaiian shirt manufacturer Reyn Spooneris informing customers that it is gearing up to make the masks based on customer inquires.
Emerica and Reyn Spooner web pages
Major League Baseball took a different approach. The MLB teamed up with its baseball uniform maker Fanatics to make PPE masks and gowns for healthcare workers. The league and sportswear maker are using the baseball jersey material that normally would be used this time of year for baseball uniforms. Fanatics Easton Pennsylvania plant stopped all uniform manufacturing and is only producing masks and gowns for Northeastern hospitals.
Fanatics jersey PPE photo source Fanatics
Specialty companies like Swag Cover are already in the face covering business for sports such as cycling, skiing and motorcycle riding. Their hundred’s of face coverings range on average from $18- $30 and have found a new consumer base.
One company is looking at the implications of a long-term pandemic mask wearing on face-recognizing software. Face ID Masks have announced plans to make N95 face recognition respirator masks. The masks have a computer mapping picture of the part of your face covered by the mask . Face ID Masksstates the mask will be recognized by facial recognition software like those found on cell phones. The company explains on its website what will happen after you upload a picture to its app:
After uploading your face, we use computational mapping to convert your facial features into an image printed onto the surface of N95 surgical masks without distortion.
Face ID Masks example on its website
Face ID Masks is not currently taking orders. The company explains they are waiting for the current N95 mask shortage to end before they start production.
Like everything about the COVID 19 crisis, no one knows how long masks will be required. One thing does now seem clear, required or not, masks will be an everyday clothing staple for the foreseeable future. Perhaps until Halloween.