Image by Adam Nieścioruk


Anna Letizia Lobasso

If there is a representative symbol of the current confusion and fear, the misinformation and anxiety generated by the spread of the new coronavirus, it is the surgical face mask.

In Italy, after days of lockdown and social distancing, the pandemic is gradually slowing down and the government is discussing if wearing medical devices must become a national policy. The question is: what if surgical masks become part of our daily life and how can we make face-coverings socially acceptable?

The first move was made by many fashion, handbag and accessories brands. For them,  the spread of Covid-19 has meant shuttering their brick and mortar shops and facing online sales. By pivoting to make face masks instead, many are finding a way to keep their businesses going while also serving a great need. Prada, COS and Louis Vuitton are among the leading fashion brands that are retooling to manufacture surgical face masks for workers in essential jobs, as a response to the shortage caused by Covid-19. Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga have begun production of cotton face masks. Other brands including Zara and Mango, have also committed to making the surgical masks, while the luxury conglomerate LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton) has promised to donate millions of masks and medical-grade respirators to replenish reducing supplies.

If coronavirus goes on for an extended period of time, we need to understand that masks will become part of our daily lives, like in East Asia, where they are now considered popular fashion items and a sign of the user’s social responsibility, as they prevent one’s own germs or sickness from spreading in public places.

From Tokyo to Bangkok  you can see people wearing face masks everywhere. You will see it on the streets, in a shop or right next to you on the train. It is now a fashion item used to make a personal style statement. For example, Gonoturn, an apparel brand that makes creative face masks, is a popular option identified in Shibuya, Japan. The shop sells reusable cloth masks resembling animals and characters from Japanese pop culture, which are comfortable and aesthetic. Turning masks into a cool and fashionable must-have will help Western countries to better accept this new habit that we never had before.

We already witnessed some high-end brands, inspired by Asian street wear trends, making masks and matching outfits for famous stars like Billie Eilish, who wore an iconic custom Gucci face mask, made from a gauzy black material, during the Grammys premiere back in January 2020.

As the pandemic continues to spread, causing bankruptcy for most vulnerable sectors, more business opportunities and global markets appear to be forming. To this matter, the worldwide face mask market size is expected to record a remuneration of USD 21,210 million by the end of 2026.