If the human race can be counted on for anything, it is that we will consistently scare ourselves to death whenever we can. We love to overreact, spin conspiracies, and take (or talk a lot about taking) radical action. It’s what we do.
Another thing we do is we exploit our native fears for commercial purposes.
Enter the Asian Surgical Mask Phenomenon. This is a trend that continues to build and grow year on year. From China to Korea to Japan to any number of Asian nations, the spread of the surgical mask gets wider and wider. On any given day in Shanghai, you can see people walking around, sporting the mask. The mask exists to ward off airborne germs (yours or others) or protect you from air pollution.
But where are the brands?
With hundreds and thousands of blank white spaces covering noses and mouths, why are we not seeing a market for Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel masks – or Nike, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s? The opportunity for brand communication is enormous and yet is left almost completely alone.
It could be that the brands do not want to connect themselves with illness – and that would be justified and understandable. But one has to assume that many of the masks are now being worn less out of necessity than as accessories. In that case, I would expect a swelling tide of branded masks to already be out there.
An argument could be made for luxury brands, adding a new area for expansion in affordable luxury, akin to sunglasses and watches. Surely a “little black dress” could be accompanied by a “little black mask.” Coco Chanel would like the consistency and Lagerfeld would have fun with it.
Sports brands could use them to promote awareness and their concern with the wellbeing of their consumers. Nike shorts. Nike t-shirt. Nike headband. Nike facemask. Just do it.
Sadly, the need for facemasks in high pollution areas is no joke. On “high alert” days in China, people are encouraged to stay indoors rather than expose themselves to the toxic air. In such an environment, masking up is good alternative to hiding yourself away. And people are doing it in droves. There is so much demand in China, for example, that the counterfeiters have moved in on the territory. What do they know that the big brands don’t?
It is curious to me, therefore, that this opportunity is being neglected. If the facemask is becoming de rigeur, surely fashion mavens should be calling for their integration in one’s total look. Sunglasses were invented for UV protection, but people now choose them based first on how they look and only then on how they protect.
Depending on my mood, I would certainly have a notapipe branded mask for working days, a Puma mask to match my sneakers, and perhaps an Armani mask for formal occasions.
In the words of Karl Lagerfeld himself: “Don’t dress to kill, dress to survive.”