Face masks are more than just a Center for Disease Control (CDC) mandated tool to keep people from spreading airborne viruses, namely the Corona virus (Covid-19)… they’ve become a political statement, a lens into the economic system, as well as a fashion accessory.
There are people protesting in their hometowns for their constitutional right to not wear masks, when people are dying every day because they can’t afford one. There are fashion houses all over the world pivoting their manufacturing from clothing of all types to making face masks. Healthcare professionals are having to wear the same disposable face mask and gown every day (which ultimately defeats their purpose of being disposable) because this country is experiencing an unbelievable shortage. A recent Washington Post article stated that even some black people (men, in particular) have expressed the fear of being mistaken for a criminal if they wear a face mask – particularly a homemade one – and that they’d rather risk contracting Covid-19 than an encounter with the police. The article also mentioned that Asian Americans have also faced verbal and physical abuse from ignorant people who blame them for this virus because of its first appearance in Wuhan, China. These stories are just a glimpse into how rapidly things change and the importance of being able to adapt and survive. For many people, these face masks signify life or death, and for others, they are simply a fashion statement.
As the country begins to slowly reopen and people start reassembling the pieces from their lives pre-pandemic, these face masks will be a long-standing relic from this undoubtedly impactful period of our history. Since the Corona virus is predicted to be cyclical and doctors have already found a new strain of it, face masks look like they are here to stay. As we start to navigate life beyond quarantine, we will likely need to continue to use face masks if we want to prevent continued transmission of the virus. Every year when the flu season comes around, face masks will probably be there too.
As fast as this pandemic spread, economies and industries around the world have had to shift as well – including the fashion industry. A recent GQ article stated, “ultimately, the hurdles and lack of clarity around the effort to make masks and other much-needed equipment underscore the fragility of the American fashion system—notably its lack of strong centralized oversight and its reliance on overseas manufacturing, factors that have stung young designers in the past but are now impacting the industry at every level.” Without a stronger federal mandate on production of materials, designers doing their best to help their communities and stay afloat will consistently run into road blocks.
Over time, we cannot continue to rely on the charity or goodwill of selfless Americans producing face masks in their homes. There are few American-based factories able to produce appropriate face coverings at volume. Therefore, legislation must be updated to help us meet the ever-growing demand. There must be cross-sector collaboration in order to effectively manage the spread of the virus, particularly regarding the production of personal protective equipment (ppe) such as face masks.
Aside from the legislative red tape causing issues with the American production of face masks, these accessories will have a huge impact on the upcoming collections of fashion houses across the globe as they become more and more of a fashion statement. Because masks have migrated from simply a piece of healthcare equipment into the realm of fashion, they become symbols of not just health or social concern, but of identity. Fashion is a realm where almost anything goes, allowing people to express their individuality in countless ways. Fashion designers, stylists, and fashionistas alike even tout the importance of having a “wardrobe” of face masks so that you can not only decrease your wash load, but so that you can mix and match with different outfits too. And perhaps, the more stylish face masks become, the more willing people will be to actually wear them.
In addition, face masks have shone a light on sustainability. Many fashion brands, entrepreneurs, and small businesses have been making masks out of leftover fabric.
Alisun Franson, who co-owns the Venice, Los Angeles based Amiga Wild store with indie jewelry designer Sadie Gilliam, has pivoted her business to make face masks for her community and donate many of them to the nonprofit organization Worthy of Love, which helps children living on skid row. Franson says, “sustainable fashion is the future — not a trend. It’s a lifestyle that people are adopting because they see the importance of preserving our earth. There are so many existing materials in the world. Why send them to the landfill when they can be reused and transformed into wearable art?” (Excerpt of a recent interview taken from the Los Angeles Times)
With a newfound emphasis on sustainability, it also begs the question of how else this pandemic will affect the fashion industry since it’s one of the biggest contributors to pollution and waste. In the midst of broken supply chains, production halts, decreased employee efficiency (whether that’s due to layoffs/illness/deaths or social distancing), and delivery incapacities, fashion brands have been leaning towards creating less seasonal and more versatile apparel (for example, athleisure). The fashion industry needs to lengthen product selling time and figure out ways to shift more easily from season to season in order to maintain their bottom lines. Upcycling and using responsibly grown materials will also likely see an uptick in prevalence (Here is a great resource for upcycling in your own home).
I personally wear face masks anytime I know that I will be around people not living in my household. I want to do my best to help stop the spread of the Corona virus and to protect myself and my loved ones. I got my face masks from The Happy Mask Store. Their high-quality, double lined, cotton face masks meet CDC guidelines and can be washed and reused. As a company, they believe face masks are not only functional, but can be uplifting. They donate one mask to MakeMasks2020.org for every mask sold on their site and provide styles that bring a smile to people’s faces. Ultimately, their goal is to provide 10,000 masks to America and I want to help them reach that goal! You too can support them by shopping at The Happy Mask Store.
Capitalist opportunities often emerge from times of trauma and the fashion industry isn’t immune. Being malleable has proved to be a necessity during times of crisis, for both individuals and businesses alike. It’ll be interesting to see how businesses across all industries will have to continue to shift in order to remain relevant and profitable, with the fashion industry helping to lead the charge.
For latest stats on the Corona Virus: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/