Face masks have gone from plain to bling since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Those basic, disposable cloth masks with three layers, typically light blue in color, are still out there, but more and more people are wearing stylish facial coverings.
Just about everybody is making and/or selling them in all types of fabrics and shapes — retailers, manufacturers, brands, artists, designers and everyday people.
“A lot of the designers started creating a little bit more fashion forward (masks), something you can wear with your apparel,” said Nikita Wallace, the chief executive and founder of Winston Salem Fashion Week. “It has been phenomenal to see the range and the varying types of masks that these designers are producing.”
Winston-Salem Fashion Week highlights local designers, although not exclusively, focusing on opportunities to showcase their collections and talents.
To say there is a wide assortment of face masks available to wear these days, both disposable and reusable, is an understatement.
The reusable masks started out in solid colors such as white, black, pink and blue. Now, they can be found in all types of fabrics and shapes.
If anybody wants a floral, tropical, animal, skull, butterfly, flag, camouflage or lip print, they’re out there. How about face masks embellished with rhinestones, sequins and other bling? There are plenty of those, too. And holiday designs are already selling.
Makers of masks are also starting to offer more clear-window designs for visible expression, especially for the deaf and hard of hearing, than they did several months ago.
Three fashion designers in Winston-Salem — Angel Fant, Akilah Shaw and Jenni Earle Hopkins — recently talked about the dramatic change in face masks and introduced some of their own designs.
Making a statement
Fant and her daughters, Danielle Fant and Tenijah Fant, are the designers and owners of No Punching Bag, a fashion brand for social change.
Initially, the trio researched and made masks from a filter material and sold them for 50 cents.
“We did that at first because we were trying to deal with the pandemic,” Angel Fant said.
Although, the women now also have designer masks online, their focus is still on “flattening the curve,” and the filter material is sewn into their facial coverings so that the masks can be filtered and washable, she said.
Offerings include skin-tone masks to match a person’s skin complexion, ones made with lace and custom masks.
Fant said a customer wanted nothing but khaki masks to go with his work uniform.
No Punching Bag’s masks range from $2 to $40.
For this article, Fant created several masks including her favorite, a “Flatten the Curve” flag mask highlighted in gold, blue, red and white. The six-foot mask can be hung as a display.
“It is a reminder to put your mask on,” she said.
Her designs also include a “World Peace” mask with flower embellishments over a background of many colors, as well as what she calls the “Reversible Occasion” mask — formal on one side and casual on the other side. She also made reversible child and matching doll masks.
Akilah Shaw has been a designer since the age of 18.
“I reconstruct clothing and I do personal designs and styling and designing for people,” Shaw said.
She makes fashion, custom masks and sells them through her self-titled business on Etsy. Shaw is also a merchandising manager for Polo Ralph Lauren Sleepwear & Underwear for Hanesbrands Inc.
Shaw has been making her masks, which are reusable and washable, since March.
In the beginning of the pandemic, she gave away a lot of them. Then her nieces and nephews kept telling her to get into custom masks.
Now, she sees her custom designs as a niche market, especially with millennials.
“Then it got to be with some of the adults when they started doing the drive-by churches,” Shaw said of customers. “More mature consumers wanted masks to go with their outfits.”
She specializes in embellishments from studs, to sequins to different shapes of rhinestones and pearls. Her masks range from $5 to $30.
She sometimes buys printed masks from Jason Samuels, the owner of We Are Winston, and embellishes them with bling.
Shaw also designed several masks for this article. She used black sequin fabric with crystal fringe trimming to create a formal mask called “Crystal Fringe.”
Her other creations include “Leopard Mask” with tear-drop crystals, “Multi Color Arrow Sequins Mask,” “Stripe Sequins Mask” and “Camo with Studs Mask.”
Jenni Earle, a maker of bandannas, has been in business since July 2017.
Owner Jenni Earle Hopkins said she started the company after going through some hard times in her life and finding out how strong she was.
“I’ve always loved making and designing things, so I thought, ‘What could I give to people so that they could know they were more capable than they think,’” Hopkins said.
She chose hand-dyed bandannas, which are made of 100% southern-grown and milled cotton.
“All of our products have mantras on them,” she said.
The first bandanna was “be brave” and the newest one is “hell yeah,” which is silver with indigo “eco-friendly” ink. The bandannas are $32 each.
Hopkins got the idea for the bandannas from her grandfather, Earl Puckett, who she said always made her feel brave.
She had no idea she was in the masks business until the COVID-19 crisis.
“Right as the pandemic hit, we saw a big spike on our website and on Etsy,” Hopkins said.
Jenni Earle’s business more than doubled in April 2020 over the same month last year, she said.
As far as the changes in masks, people focused on function months ago and now they want a mask to match their styles, Hopkins said.
“The companies that we know and have followed from trade show to trade show, have been producing masks out of Navajo printed material, gorgeous denims and things like that,” she said.
A look ahead
All the designers believe that masks will be around for a while.
“What the world is moving toward mostly is a more creative look to go with their everyday wear or to express themselves in who they are,” Fant said.
She has a good number of masks already in her personal collection.
“I can wear a different mask every day, like every day of the month,” she said.
Shaw expects an evolution of masks.
“I think it will evolve and more companies will start having a mask collection,” she said.
She is trying to keep ahead of the trends with her sequin-styled masks.
Tips on how to use bandannas as masks are on the Jenni Earle website.
Hopkins said her bandannas were selling well pre-coronavirus. Now, her hope is that “they can go back to being used in your hair and all the kind of stylish ways.”
While Nikita Wallace of Winston-Salem Fashion Week doesn’t want it to happen, she sees masks becoming a part of society in some ways.
“I think it will be a choice that everyone will have to make, whether they want to wear masks,” Wallace said. “It may become a fashion statement for some.”