At the start of Lockdown in February-March 2020 across the world, there was a huge hue and cry about scarcity of N95 and surgical masks in the market for the public. Slowly, the governments and other manufacturers geared up for the production and supply resumed. Other companies joined the fray in producing 2-3 layer cotton masks as per the guidelines published, households, museum staffs, teachers, NGOs, self help groups – many pitched in to ensure that everyone had access to the only protection element required against the deadly Corona virus. And the opportunity for masks to be the new fashion accessory.
For a protective gear that covers more than half your face, it was just a question of time for fashion houses to identify and grasp this opportunity. Like the eye wear which became the fashion statement, masks too joined the new long list of fashion accessories – the mobile phone covers, the wrist watch, the socks, the belt and the cufflink, the handbag and the wallet – beyond the jewellery and the clothes. The Pandemic while closing many doors of business provided a window of opportunity that is becoming bigger and bigger ever since.
In India, the opportunity first started with handloom clothing companies like FabIndia which announced the production of face masks by their artisans to help them earn a livelihood when the country came to standstill in the absence of couriers and transport facilities. Face mask along with hand sanitisers, by the Government directives came to be under the essential commodities and hence, could be delivered to the customers.
The single layer cotton re-usable mask soon got replaced by 2 or 3-layer washable cotton masks, when other companies started their production. The emphasis earlier was on promoting the handicrafts industry, and soon the market bloomed with block prints, kantha and chikankari embroidery, ikat and kalamkari masks. This was an opportunity for accessorising with the outfit and to create personal style statement – a need felt by both consumers and producers.
Masks as the new fashion accessory is here to stay – with many countries still in the first wave of Corona, and the vaccine development continues to be in the testing stage – people will err on the side of caution to continue wearing the masks going forward unless they start feeling safe. And with experts suggesting that this pandemic is just one of the first ones grappling the mankind, this fashion accessory has found a permanent market.
In India, leather and the luggage goods company as well as sportswear companies have also started making the face masks. And many tech companies could join in the fray integrating technology tools in the masks going forward – integrating health, work and entertainment experience with preventive wear. An iMask potentially could be the next big technology cum fashion accessory from the stable of Apple.
But unlike the handloom masks, many of them carry the company logo right in the front – the obsession of the companies to have their logo on every product (and bigger the better) knows no boundary. Marketers would probably agree with this marketing fad but as a consumer, I definitely do not want a logo or name to be stamped on my face. And given this trend, I predict that companies would soon start getting their own masks made with their brand logos and mandating all employees to wear them – definitely a move that kills the personal identity completely – a process that started with a face being half covered, face being the epitome of identity visually.
And of course, the social media is abuzz with gold and diamond studded face masks – another way to make the masks your unique fashion style statement. The embroidered, sequinned or the silk, brocade and other luxury material cannot give competition to these precious metals in the mask wear.
Where can you buy the face masks in India?
- Fabindia – limited choice – block prints and plain masks, 2 styles – pleated and snug fit, 2 sizes – adult and children, best value for money
- iTokri – wide variety with ikat, kantha, hand block print and plain, available in both adult and children sizes, value for money
- World Art Community – my personal favourite for its designs showcasing Indian handicrafts from across the state, again available in both adult and children sizes, value for money
- Fabric Pandit – another one of my favourites for their plain workwear collection, value for money
- Nappa Dori – In beautiful plain colours, they are slightly pricier. My only problem is their logo and/or brand name that stares right in your face, so would assume that this will be picked by the absolute brand lovers or people wanted to scream silently that they are wearing Nappa Dori face masks.
- Hidesign – Latest to join the mask wear industry, they have currently limited choice which caters more toward male gender. Again for die-hard brand loyalists as the company has stitched small leather patch with name and/or brand logo on the face of the mask.
Apart from these, so many other companies, local level NGOs, and other big and small organisations are making the face masks and selling in the market or making them available to whosoever needs them. Designer wear companies especially in the bridal wear segment, are making face masks to match the customised outfits for the bridal party – talk about the masks being the latest fashion accessory no doubt. In the menswear segment, few companies are experimenting with matching the masks with either the shirt or the tie and pocket wear – will people buy it or not is the question that will be answered later. Though my guess is that people would prefer neutral mask wear to match hundreds of shirts or sarees or dresses in the current wardrobe.
While Mr Trump usually prefers not to wear a face mask, when he does it carries the White House Presidential seal – thus, establishing his identity. By choosing to buy from our favourite brands or the style, we too, make this into our personal style statement. So yes, masks are the new fashion accessory!!