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Handmade masks Image Credit: Shutterstock

Long before face masks became a mandatory accessory in several countries to curb the spread of the coronavirus, they were showing up in style on the runways of Milan and the glittering red carpet ceremonies in Hollywood.

Back in January, when news of an ‘unknown virus’ was all but a column on page 12 in a newspaper, US singer Billie Eilish created frenzy at the Grammy Awards, donning a Gucci designer face mask.

The landscape may have altered dramatically in a few short months, but the stylised content still exists, albeit now, marketed for a good cause.

Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish at the Grammys Image Credit: Shutterstock

Eilish, along with singers Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and The Rolling Stones, are lending their starry weight to a fashionable cause in a bid to raise funds for charity. Universal Music Group artists are taking part in a ‘We’ve Got You Covered’ initiative to release cloth faces masks that are washable, reusable and, more importantly for influencers, fashionable.

Available online and costing $15 (Dh55) each, all net proceeds will go toward charities that include MusiCares and Help Musicians, which are working to support the music community affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fashionably fit or failing?

While the charitable initiative fulfils a much-needed gap in providing aid where needed, the fact still remains that fashion still holds plenty of sway to cut through the furore, even as the global pandemic spreads its tentacles to affect more than 3 million people across the world.

Earlier this month, New York-based designer and fashion illustrator Jenny Walton grabbed headlines and eyeballs when she took a Prada dust bag and spruced it up to make a mask. In a lengthy Instagram post, Walton justified her actions, posting: “You might not think you have the supplies at home to make a mask but get resourceful and I bet you might! Mask made using @prada dust bag that came with a pair of shoes. Used another dust bag in cotton for the backing and used ribbons for the ties. Some people have used hair ties, the elastic from a @moleskine notebook etc, since elastic is widely unavailable now. Get creative! I used a machine but you can sew by hand if needed!... Let’s get resourceful, leaving more surgical masks for the doctors and nurses who need them!”

While many applauded her resourcefulness, others users commenting were not so kinds, with one user posting: “Oh man, maybe I should make one out of my Saint Laurent dust bag.”

Another user simply wrote: “Cut out your influential privilege and start taking this pandemic seriously. Synthetic materials don’t help. Stop spreading wrong information and endangering lives.”

For several celebrities from Nigeria, the pandemic became the perfect event to bring on some bling and razzle dazzle the face mask. At the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) ceremony for 2020, held in mid-March in Lagos, Big Brother Naija finalist Omashola Kola Oburoh said he turned up at the ceremony in a glittery mask.

As pictures of his look went viral, Oburoh took to Instagram to justify his style as a mark of ‘protest’. He wrote: “Fashion can also be a Protest/Educative not just a Statement...... let’s join hands to fight Covid19.”

While a few were left scratching their heads, the same ceremony also saw television presenter and actor Ada Afoluwake Ogunkeye aka Folu Storms, who turned up at the awards wearing a jewelled mask on the red carpet. She also later complained that people were getting too close to her at the event and made her feel uncomfortable.

In an Instagram post, Folu Storms posted: “No one really paid attention to my social distancing cries so I will be avoiding large crowds for the foreseeable future! Party done and it’s back to the grind! Take care of yourselves people! Wash your hands and avoid touching your face!”

Instagram user Herbwand echoed a few sentiments when he responded to the post, writing: “This is the height of ignorance. This is a deadly killer requires a medical grade mask. Please, go and educate yourself, novel Coronavirus is not about fashion. The crap on your face will not protect you.”

Here to stay

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Whether or not people agree with the style statements on the red carpets or on Instagram, many health experts have urged civilians to reach for a face mask made of cloth, while leaving the N95 and other surgical masks for frontline medical workers and first responders.

Yet the growing demand from the medical community and civilians, was perhaps the caveat needed to prompt designer brands such as Armani, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci to repurpose their production lines to include face masks and hospital gowns.

Threads 4 A Cause
Threads 4 A Cause Image Credit: Supplied

Even here in the UAE, fashion designers, cosmetic brands and industry suppliers have been asked to create Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for frontline health care workers, which include surgical masks and isolation gowns, in a new ‘emergency network’ formed by the Arab Fashion Council (AFC).

The new AFC initiative, #thread4cause, and aims to respond to high demands for PPE due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as hospitals deal with high numbers of patients.

Yet, who says what’s essential can also not look good? Websites such as (no we aren’t making this up) have also popped up, showcasing designer styles that follow deals with established brands such as Warner Bros and Hello Kitty to retail designer pop masks, ‘handmade in USA’.

Screengrab from Maskclub
Screengrab from Maskclub Image Credit: Screengrab

A look at its mission statement sheds some light on the company, stating: “In less than 4 days, was born. It all started with trying to help our local hospital in Detroit, MI secure needed personal protective equipment during COVID-19.”

The company states it was launched on April 10 as “the first ever branded subscription face mask website that helps give back to America’s first responders”. It further adds: “Today, you can get a mask a month from your favourite brands like Warner Bros, Care Bears, Hello Kitty, Hasbro and so many more.”

For enterprising minds and the wellness aspect aside, masks are fast becoming a revenue stream as well.

Following a recent industry report, IANS stated that even in India, traditional industries such as those found in the hosiery town of Tiruppur has seen several textile units now making masks to cater to the increasing current demand as well as looking at the future export potential for global brands.

“I see it become a part of lifestyle,” Uma Prajapati, 50, an entrepreneur-cum-social activist, who built garment company Upasana Design Studio in Auroville in Tamil Nadu, quoted as saying.

Upasana has launched reusable healing masks made of organic cotton fabric as a part of its Therapeutic Clothing line. These neem infused (Indian lilac) masks and silver grid masks are supposed to be organic and cleansing.

Concurring with the view that masks would become a fashion accessory brand expert Harish Bijoor also told IANS: “In the beginning the demand for masks will be by force/compulsion. Going forward while the focus on protection will continue to be there, masks will turn fashionable.”

Whether or not the fashion of face masks is here to stay for an indefinite period or just an industrial cycle, going by the likes of what fashion magazine are touting from the pages of their glossies, no matter the need of the hour, at least make it count with style.