Who says functional can’t be fashionable too? As more and more Australians incorporate face masks into their outdoor attire, local designers are adding them to their range for the first time.
And while the Australian Government hasn’t officially recommended wearing a face mask unless you’re carrying Covid-19 or caring for someone who is (in which case the mask should be medical-grade), many other countries have recently made face masks or cloth face coverings mandatory in public spaces to help prevent the asymptomatic spread of disease. It’s also a well-established practice in many Asian countries.
Here are six Aussie companies now making face masks – from luxe silk styles to high-visibility coverings and make-your-own options – ranging from $14 to $44.44.
SisterWorks is a not-for-profit organisation supporting female refugees, asylum seekers and migrants by providing work and empowerment through commerce. The group operates hubs in Bendigo, Richmond and Dandenong where women can attend a range of programs, all focused on ‘learning by doing’.
When the coronavirus lockdown forced the hubs to close, the group began thinking about ways it could maintain its activities so that its community, one of the most vulnerable in Australia, could still earn an income. “We then decided to develop a reusable product respectful of our ethics,” says head of sales Nhi Tran.
The masks SisterWorks produces are simple enough to be made from home, keeping “sisters” employed while social distancing. “The challenge was to move the training program for our sisters online,” says Tran. “The majority of them have little English and little IT skills.”
The initiative is already producing great success stories. “We lent a sewing machine to our sister Logini for the mask project [and] with her income, she earned enough money to purchase her own [machine],” says Tran.
SisterWorks’s masks are made from donated cotton fabric and loose-weave muslin, with a pocket to insert extra layers, or a filter.
$14. Available online.
For something a little more luxe, Sydney sleepwear brand Papinelle is selling pure silk masks. “Using silk provides a chic alternative to standard masks and also has the added benefit of being sustainable, washable and reusable,” says Papinelle founder Renae James.
She originally imagined her masks would be worn while travelling, but that seems unlikely – at least right now. Unlike some other brands that are only manufacturing masks short-term, James sees the product becoming a regular part of her collection. “We imagine they will be the new eye mask on flights,” she says.
The masks are made using silk remnants sourced from Papinelle’s regular suppliers. They also have a pocket for inserting a generic filter.
$39.95. Currently sold out online, but being restocked soon. (Watch this space).
Hey Reflect’o has always blurred the line between functional and fashionable with its range of designer high-visibility vests for cyclists (and their dogs). Now, owner Lisa Penney is moving into the mask market.
Penney hand-sews every mask to order from her studio at Adelaide artist hub The Mill. “They went boom in the first two weeks of the lockdown,” she says – 150 masks in the first day she put them online.
Penney uses her own double-layered design. “I make each mask from sustainable hemp, and an outer layer of recycled offcuts and fabric seconds I had left over from making vests,” she says. Twelve styles are available, all with the Hey Reflect’o signature heat-bonded reflective pieces for extra visibility at night. “The reflective pieces are in the shape of the Covid symbol [molecule]. I thought that’d be funny,” she says.
“The good thing is that they’re washable so you can keep them forever.” Penney recommends a 60-degree machine wash to kill all the bugs.
$29. Available online.
Melbourne Japanese cafe and design warehouse Cibi is another business augmenting its daily practice in the time of coronavirus. The store stocks over 100 styles of traditional, hand-dyed fabrics called tenugui, which can be worn as scarves or headbands, or used as tea towels. They can also become cheerful homemade face masks with some simple folds and a bit of elastic. Spanning a diverse aesthetic, from traditional landscape patterns, to sumo wrestlers and piano keys, tenugui provide an expressive alternative to plain masks.
“Tenugui is an all-rounder,” says Cibi’s managing director Meg Tanaka, who runs Cibi with her husband Zenta Tanaka. “As every tenugui is handmade, each is unique. Their individual appeal grows with repeated use and washing as the cloth softens and the dyes take on a well-used patina – natural qualities that we love.”
Renowned Brisbane fashion designer Gail Sorronda has temporarily shut her flagship Fortitude Valley store, offering one-on-one boutique appointments and delivery instead. Now, she’s added a line of face masks, which she calls Serious Flowers, to her range, too.
“In keeping with the brand’s philosophy, the name ‘Serious Flowers’ explores duality, in the beautiful and the ugly human condition we are experiencing right now,” says Sorronda.
Available in black and white and a range of sizes, the masks have cotton lining with an embroidered net outer, and elastic ribbon. Though the masks are not medical grade, Sorronda says they can aid with day-to-day movement and prevent you from touching your face while shopping for essentials.
$44.44. Available online.
K-Lee Design’s Karen De Aizpurua usually works in sequins and spandex, sewing custom dance and swim wear, gymnastics leotards and bodybuilding trunks. They’re designed to show off the body, not cover it up.
De Aizpurua says she started making masks to “Keep the surgical masks with our frontline workers who need them to take care of us,” she says. Her masks come in an “everyday style for the everyday person”.
De Aizpurua stitches each one in her Brendale factory while her team sticks to the usual manufacturing line to keep business ticking over. “I cut small stacks of the fabric with a hand-held cutting machine, then sew and bind individual masks with an industrial sewing machine.”
The masks are crafted from bamboo fabric, which De Aizpurua says is ideal for this application. “It’s antibacterial, hypoallergenic, luxuriously soft [and] has moisture wicking and thermos-regulating properties.” It’s also durable and hypoallergenic for those with sensitive skin.
$20. Two (sadly non-sparkly) styles – ear-wrap and tie-up – are available online.