A year ago, no one would have expected the role masks would come to play in our lives. In many parts of Asia, mask-wearing has long been considered a civic duty to stopping the spread of disease, and a useful safeguard from pollution. For the rest of the world however, Coronavirus has been the unprecedented catalyst. The journey to getting the public fully on-board with mask wearing has been, needless to say, rocky. In the early stages of the pandemic, when healthcare workers were facing serious PPE shortages and the data on the effectiveness of was less conclusive, government officials were originally dissuading the public from buying masks. Now they have become mandatory in public settings in over 50 countries worldwide, including Ireland. There has been pushback from anti-mask protesters, both at home and abroad, however face-coverings have grown to be a staple of daily living. The essential mental list of ‘phone, wallet, keys’ has expanded to now include ‘mask and hand sanitizer’ each time we leave the house. As PPE innovations roll out and we become more adept at navigating this new normal, people are adapting new routines and embracing additional elements of their pandemic armor.
While it remains yet to be seen if they become an enduring part of life post-vaccine, facemask sales are currently booming and show little sign of slowing. Handmade marketplace, Etsy, reports its revenue has nearly doubled from last year thanks partially to surging mask sales. In the September quarter alone, it sold over 24 million masks. What is considered a good face-covering has evolved over time. Running gaiters and masks with valves have seen the chopping block, while classic fabric masks have seen all sorts of upgrades. Canadian fashion brand, Mayer has created masks with built in ear-muffs, specifically for winter. From silk facemasks to prevent “maskne,” to adjustable straps to avoid ear soreness, many months of wearing them, has made us eager to optimize the experience. Recently people have begun accessorizing with stylish mask chains and carrying cases. Face masks have even gone couture. Whether it’s made from a vintage kimono, or the iconic Burberry tartan, these days there are plenty of options to express your personal fashion taste via your mask.
Beauty brands have also been quick to give hand santiser an upgrade, formulating versions with beloved skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid and luxury scents. Products like contactless door-opening key chains, thermometer guns, and UV sterilizers saw a spike in demand earlier in the year, and supply quickly followed suit. Currently, there is a lot of buzz about portable air purifiers as, coming into winter, consumers have become increasingly interested in investing in them for their homes. Then there are the ultra-techy innovations, like a digital emotive mask or air filtration helmets. Amazon has made its ‘digital assistant,’ which monitors employees social distancing in real time, open source for all businesses.
While the average person isn’t likely to swap their ordinary PPE for a filtration helmet, or a spend a hundred euro on a designer mask, the existence of these products gives us insight on where people’s heads are at. People want to assert a certain level of control on a situation, as the pandemic has inherently rendered us out of control. Whether that’s procuring a mask that scientifically filters the most droplets, or simply making a fashion choice, having choices at all is instinctively comforting. It is evidence of our creativity and adaptability—it simply feels more human. Businesses should understand that every interaction with your brand is now emotionally heighted. People are looking for reassurance at every turn. Find ways to soothe them, whether that’s demonstrating your staff adhere to best safety practices, or offering nice smelling hand sanitizer in store. Your customers will expect you to get the big things right, but they will also appreciate the details.