Fashion Face Masks: An Outlook of the Present into the Future

Fashion face masks1 appeared in most consumers lives in 2020. While in markets like Japan, South Korea and China such items are commonly used to avoid the spread of viruses when one is ill, reflecting the sense of civic obligation existing across the respective population; and others due to high levels of air pollution, as it is the case of India over the last decade, most countries had an almost non-existent offering of such products prior to the pandemic.

However, as Coronavirus (COVID-19)‘s rampant propagation reached more people, a mix of governmental measures and individual fear led to the exponential growth of this fashion item throughout 2020. As different players kept launching their own product in the market, a whole new product category took form with its own characteristics that resemble, in part, those of apparel accessories.

Fashion face mask – A washable, reusable cloth face mask made of common textiles, usually cotton, worn over the mouth and nose. Cloth face masks do not provide a seal around the face. Please only include B2C transactions. Excluding: surgical masks, disposable paper masks and respirators such as N95 masks, which are made of non-woven fabric formed through a melt blowing process and are regulated for their effectiveness.

Price variation across the world

Out of the 46 researched markets by Euromonitor International, Vietnam had the lowest average unit price for fashion face masks at USD0.60 in 2020. Egypt and Indonesia followed closely. These benefit from an existing manufacturing industry for fashion that was able to adapt and provide low-cost items. On the other side of the spectrum, we can find Sweden, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong, China leading the ranking of fashion face masks by average unit price. Higher disposable income naturally allows consumers to purchase fashion branded items and even to adventure in the higher end of the offering.

Luxury and premium versions, as it already exists in all other accessories’ categories, appeared rapidly to satisfy the needs of high-income individuals. For example, Burberry already accounts 7 models priced at around USD120 and Dolce & Gabanna launched a range that goes from USD89 to USD122. With high demand and popularity, fake versions also flooded online retailers with prices as low as USD10. Face masks generated Etsy, the e-commerce player, $346 million in revenue between March and August in 2020.

In the middle price range, consumers can find a great variety of sport-oriented version of fashion face masks. Under Armour has been particularly successful with its „Iso-Chill“ fabric feel mask priced at USD30. At the same price, Nike found its place in the market with the „Pro Hyperwarm“ full-face mask version. These higher prices reflect extra features embedded in the mask that sports enthusiasts require, from breathability to dryness.

Fashion face masks to remain relevant

Resistance to wearing masks was particularly common at the beginning of the pandemic. From unfounded health concerns to simple discomfort, face masks, in general, were avoided by a great percentage of the population. Legislation that obliged its usage, being it only in closed spaces or even in the open street, contributed to substantial increases in usage percentage across the globe and created the perfect environment for fashion face masks to disseminate among consumers and remain in place.

Naturally, while fear to contract the virus played a great role for people to wear a mask on regular basis, other factors contributed to its continuous utilization. As previously mentioned, fashion face masks also help users to reduce exposure to air pollution, especially within great urban areas. On top of that, these items are quite effective against allergies caused by pollen. Furthermore, to a smaller extent, beyond its practicality and more in a fashion-oriented trend, consumers are enriching its accessories portfolio, adding a new item to their personal style repertoire. In 2009, fashion face masks became popular in South Korea among teenagers since it created a wanted mysterious and even intimidating perception on the individual wearing it.

In the long-term, it is expected that such habit persistence will keep fashion face masks in the market for a while. The type of consumption will be similar to the one in the Far East. However, the volume and value of this market will shrink consistently as the pandemic is controlled on the country level. Consumers will also prefer increasingly higher quality items as the market stabilizes and needs change drastically.

Legislations and restrictions impact consumption

Legislation obliging the usage of face masks contributed greatly to the growth and proliferation of fashion face masks around the globe. The more strong these rules were in place, the higher the consumption of these items and the diversity available in the market. In the case of the USA and France, the restrictions imposed on surgical face masks consumption limited to medical staff only, gave an extra boost to this product category in the respective countries, driving prices upwards as demand overwhelmingly exceeded supply.

Nevertheless, other restrictions had also a negative impact on fashion face masks. For example, in Germany, 2021 started with more rules regarding which types of face masks are allowed. The N95/KN95/FFP2 („filtering facepiece“) masks became the norm in public transportation and indoor spaces, reducing fashion face masks‘ value among consumers that are now more limited in where to use them. Similarly to Germany, however with a positive impact in the category, in March of 2021, the Brazilian government made mandatory the usage of disposable masks, such as those above-mentioned, or fashion face masks with at least two layers.

Therefore, given the better understanding of fashion face masks efficacy at the moment and increasing restrictions on types of face masks allowed in public spaces, it is expected that fashion players will seek certifications to their products in order to allow their usage widely. Furthermore, such certified products would attract more demand, as this territory is largely unexplored, but also allow brands to price up their products.

While the relevance of fashion face masks will remain high in the short to medium-term, their usage intensity will highly depend on the evolution of the pandemic and legislations put in place by governments. Furthermore, as supply and demand adjust in this new and chaotic category, prices will stabilise and several players are expected to withdraw from the market. Premium prices will be at reach for brands that are able to offer innovations in terms of efficacy, comfort or design.