Does the mask market have a future?

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Early March last year, Jenna Rennert, an influencer and former, arrived Fashion editor, used whatever she could find to cover her face or avoided a mask altogether because she never left her home.

She has since invested in a wide variety of masks from brands such as Ahida Correale, Jonathan Simkhai and Chic Tweak. She even plans which masks she will buy in the coming months, such as a colorful Royal Jelly Harlem print and a Missoni shield for the summer.

“We’ll probably be wearing masks longer than we initially expected, so it’s a good idea to come on board with some fun, stylish options,” said Rennert. “For me this has been part of my future for a while.”

Rennert doesn’t want to hypothesize when the pandemic will be over, but points to a sensation many people have experienced over the past year as proof that masks aren’t going anywhere in the short term: she still has nightmares that she is in a public space and forgot her mask.

Within a year, masks went from rarely seen to ubiquitous. For brands and retailers, masks emerged as a rescue during the pandemic, boosting much-needed sales as traditional categories plummeted. As restrictions relax and the roll-out of vaccines continues, many brands are already seeing a slowdown in demand and a greater redistribution of consumer spending. It is still unclear whether the pandemic has led to a lasting cultural shift among Western consumers to wearing masks, and how long the presence of masks will last in places like the US and Europe.

Mixed expectations

While there is some speculation that mask wearing will become a norm in the West, as it did in Asia after the outbreak of SARS in the early 2000s, said Dr. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, associate research scientist at NYU’s School of Global Public Health, and Preparedness. fellow at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said the “culture of individualism” in the US makes that unlikely.

“There are already such divergent views on the wearing of masks,” she said. “I don’t see our society in the United States being one where when you hit the streets in the summer of 2023, the majority of people wear masks.”

Ultimately, Piltch-Loeb thinks masks will be relegated to the “public health toolbox”, to be pulled out in certain scenarios, or perhaps needed in spaces such as healthcare facilities.

Thomaï Serdari, professor of marketing and director of fashion and luxury MBA at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, is more optimistic about the future of the mask market and points to safety concerns and younger consumers embracing the product as another accessory.

“It’s a category that stays here,” she said. “A mask is still a fashion statement.”

It’s a category that is here to stay.

But the increasing fatigue of the mask threatens the item’s fashion associations. Alison Freer, television costume designer and writer for New York Magazine‘s strategist, says she probably bought a hundred masks to try out early in the pandemic, but after having to wear N95s and blue surgical masks on set for 14 hours a day, she’s been wearing a mask in generally a bit fed up.

“As for regular masks, I think I would wear them in the supermarket [store], if I have to be in a tight, enclosed space, ”said Freer. ‘But I think people are going to drop the masks very quickly … That I have to wear one so often at work I think it’s [is] not a fashion accessory. “

Decrease in demand

Freer does not seem to be the only one: the demand for masks increased enormously last spring, but has been slowly declining since then.

Take Los Angeles-based clothing brand Seeker. After initially giving away masks as gifts with purchase, it started selling them in early April and saw sales for the category explode. Today, Seeker returns to standard sales figures for the rest of its operations, but the masks category has come to a standstill. Last week, it started offering masks again as a free gift with purchase.

Others are witnessing similar trends: Many have seen a noticeable drop in demand for masks in recent weeks and even months, raising questions about how they should invest in the category in the future.

I don’t think it can be as lucrative as for brands.

For Etsy, mask sales made up nearly 15 percent of total transactions on the platform in the second quarter of 2020, but by the fourth quarter they were only 4 percent. Small brands have seen the same effect: Hillary Taymour, the designer behind New York-based label Collina Strada, estimates that mask sales have fallen 50 percent between $ 70 and $ 100 since April.

Prices of luxury masks and streetwear masks have also fallen significantly in the secondary market: StockX reported an average peak price of $ 180 in April last year, which has since dropped to $ 80.

“I don’t think it can be as lucrative as for brands,” Serdari said. “The volume is about to change.”

That change has caused bigger problems for some brands that are over-betting on the market. “I know of many brands that have made, sold and continued to make a lot of stocks, and some of them are absolutely tied to the stock today,” said Brian Weitman, CEO of the Los Angeles-based supply factory STC-QST.

The influx of competition, exacerbated by the return of the previously sold-out medical-grade masks, has also forced many brands Weitman has partnered with to transition from the category.

However, there is still high demand on the retail side for masks, Taymour notes, with many retailers still including a wide variety of colors and designs in their mask orders.

A market beyond masks

Demand may be on the move now, but last spring, when sales of more traditional offerings fell, masks provided a lifeline for many brands, teaching them lessons that will inform future strategies.

After the initial buzz, masks let brands discover ways to transfer momentum to other categories. In Seeker’s case, as mask sales declined to a stable level after more options hit the market, founder Allyson Ferguson found that masks did so much more for her than just bring in cash in a rough time.

“It opened me up to a whole new market,” she said. Ferguson then expanded the brand into new industries such as loungewear to capitalize on more pandemic-induced trends.

It opened me up to a whole new market.

The category has also enabled brands to build relationships with buyers who previously may not be able to afford their products. Taymour estimates that about 80 percent of sales for her first mask came from new buyers, with many signing up for email alerts and returning to spend on other purchases. Atoms, a sneaker brand aimed directly at the consumer, saw similar results – an overall sales increase of 300 percent year-over-year in 2020 and an increase in repeat consumers, attributing co-founder and chief operating officer Sidra Qasim to his entry into the mask market. .

Masks also give brands a low-risk opportunity to experiment with new patterns and colors. How these are performing “could be an indication of where the company needs to go,” said Mintel analyst Alexis DeSalva.

When the premiums are that strong, that’s usually an indication that demand is still high.

It is these lessons that will help brands shape where they take their mask offering in a post-pandemic future. Specialized masks may see increased demand – and brands need to respond accordingly. That includes formal attire options for events or high-tech choices, including Bluetooth capabilities or speakers, making the mask more of a desirable product than a necessity. Frontman of Black Eyed Peas Will.i.am and manufacturing company Honeywell have already bet on this industry by releasing their “Xupermask”, equipped with fans and filters.

Luxury options may also have a place in the future: While prices of streetwear and luxury masks have fallen on StockX, many still consistently sell above retail value. Artist Travis Scott and Juice Wrld’s masks are currently priced at 70 and 90 percent more than retail value, respectively.

“When premiums are that strong, it’s usually an indication that demand is still high,” said Jesse Einhorn, senior economist at StockX. “That’s a very healthy level of excitement.”

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