Fashion industry turns to face masks
Apparel makers are keeping employees engaged with a new opportunity
A face mask shields against hazardous PM2.5 dust, along with the highly contagious coronavirus.
Before protective applications came about, face masks were often used by criminals, suspects, victims and even political protesters to hide their identities.
Surgical masks were never considered a fashion statement, but many Thai fashion designers and apparel manufacturers have turned the face mask into more than a shield. They want to add style to what is fast becoming an everyday accessory.
The face mask has become a new accessory category at a time when sales of traditional fashion apparel are slumping.
Brands selling masks for commercial purposes include apparel manufacturers like Arrow, GQ, Wacoal, Sabina, Cheliron, Itokin, Mc Jean, Guy Laroche, Onono, BSC, Arrow, Portland, Enfant, Davie Jones, J Press and Medtex.
Thai fashion brands Greyhound, Kloset, Leisure Projects, Painkiller Atelier, Baking Soda, Rotsaniyom, Shaka, iCONic, Adhoe Store, Jaspal and Wonder Anatomie are among those jumping on the mask bandwagon.
"My primary intention in making our mask was continuing our production capacity and job creation for our employees," said Dhitibhum Wongkiatkachorn, marketing and business development director at Greyhound. "We started to sell the first Greyhound and Smiley Dog mask collection on March 29 via our online channel, and we have made several mask versions available to respond to customers' higher demand."
The company produces two versions of Greyhound and Smiley Dog masks per week and posts a new mask collection to online channels every Friday for fans to pre-order.
Pre-sales help reduce risk of overstocking. Greyhound and Smiley Dog masks are made from yarn that provides anti-bacterial protection. The price is set at 390 baht per piece.
"Our fashion masks have received a good response from our regular customers, both Thais and foreigners," Mr Dhitibhum said. "We aim to continue selling face masks for good because they have become essential goods for customers."
All top Fashion designers are offering stylistic options while supplying the much-vaunted face masks.
The company plans to develop new masks that can protect against PM2.5 dust, one of the issues customers are concerned about.
Ramida Russell Maneesatiean, managing director of Thai Itokin, which makes uniforms for corporate customers, said the group started doing masks under the Itokin brand to serve corporate customers who requested face masks for their staff.
The group also wants to help retain staff during the crisis.
"The first purpose of making Itokin masks was to take care of our employees and daily workers," she said.
With the unexpected surge in demand, Mrs Ramida, who is also the executive director of ICC International, the marketing arm for fashion and beauty products under Saha Group, has pitched launching the Becky Russell mask brand for the retail channel.
"The pandemic hurt the fashion business greatly, particularly after retail malls were ordered to close," she said. "We have adjusted to survive, shifting to face masks to gain new income."
Facemasks becomes fashion products. *No photo credit*
Face mask demand will persist after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Following in Itokin's footsteps, many fashion brands under ICC International have launched their own mask brands via online channels for both adults and kids. Wacoal, Arrow, Elle, BSC and Enfant are so far the largest players to make the move.
Other Saha Group subsidiaries, including Boutique New City, the marketer of Guy Laroche fashion, and New City Bangkok, the maker of Cheliron stockings, have launched mask products.
Mollika Ruangkritya, the owner of Kloset, a popular Thai fashion brand, said that whenever the economy is in a slowdown, people first cut spending on luxury fashion. The company is in a rush to produce masks to sell online.
Kloset masks are available in two designs, with 300-400 pieces made per design. Price is set at 550 baht.
"The response has been good," Ms Mollika said. "Customers are still interested in designed items. Though sales of masks have yet to offset fashion items, this helps us in terms of cash flow. With the coronavirus pandemic, we believe Thais will be more hygienic, resulting in continuous demand for face masks."
Apparel manufacturers now see the face mask as a fashion statement. *No photo credit*
The company also wants to adjust business strategy to focus more on the online channel.
"Fashions can emerge from every crisis, and face masks are no exception," said Nattapol Kanokwaleewong, the owner of Leisure Projects, a menswear label. "Leisure Projects also sees a market opportunity from the pandemic, but it is not only from mask products, but also other functional products that respond to new consumer behaviour norms after the pandemic is over."
Bunchai Punturaumporn, chief executive of Sabina, the maker of Sabina lingerie, said the idea of masks was first inspired by the remarks of one staff member who wanted to make her own face mask to protect herself while working in the factory.
The company later produced face marks for workers at Sabina's factory and for salespeople at retail malls, with some donated to hospitals.
After being contacted by officials from fashion apparel brands, hospitals and government agencies to produce masks for them, Mr Bunchai said the company decided to fully expand production into commercial scale, producing 4-5 million masks for other brands. Sabina has been making its own fashion mask since April, priced at 150 baht.
Apart from fashion masks, Mr Bunchai also plans to sell anti-bacterial and anti-PM2.5 masks by the end of this month, priced a 100 baht each.
"The PM2.5 problem will recur every year in Thailand from November to February," he said. "We're concerned about this issue and want to promote wearing a mask in the same way as wearing lingerie."
Enfant brand designs facial masks for children. *No photo credit*
Lingerie manufacturer Sabina has turned to fashion masks since April. *No photo credit*
In this picture is the face mask designed by local fashion designer, Wonder Anatomie. *No photo credit*
Mr Dhitibhum says Greyhound will continue to sell face masks after the crisis abates.