Toronto clothing designer Hilary MacMillan poses for a photograph wearing her self-designed mask chains at her studio in Toronto, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. MacMillan is adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic selling masks and mask accessories. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Toronto clothing designer Hilary MacMillan poses for a photograph wearing her self-designed mask chains at her studio in Toronto, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. MacMillan is adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic selling masks and mask accessories. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Canadian companies uncover market for mask accessories amid COVID-19

But health experts say not all ideas are made equal

When COVID-19 began spreading across Canada and face masks became the year’s hottest fashion accessory, Hilary MacMillan uncovered an opportunity.

The Toronto fashion designer noticed people wanted a way to make their masks trendy and keep them handy when having to take them off for a bite to eat, so she joined the waves of retailers selling mask chains — 70-centimetre lengths of marble or gold that MacMillan has designed to hang from masks and provide a hint of style.

“COVID has kind of pushed everyone into new directions and that’s the same with us,” said MacMillan.

Her $25 mask chains are part of a growing group of products entrepreneurs have dreamed up to target just about every mask-related want, need or problem.

Can’t stop your mask from irritating your nose or ears? There are headbands, ear muffs and hats to attach the straps to, soft pads you can add to problem spots and clips to keep masks in place.

Is covering up causing you to break out in maskne (mask-induced acne)? Look out for sheet masks, cleansers and moisturizers targeted at the lower half of your face.

Not sure where to put your mask when dining out or at the dentist? Consider pouches, bags and containers in just about every size and material.

If you’re sporting facial hair, there are beard guards that fit with masks and if you wear glasses, sprays and lenses that promise to reduce or eliminate fog too.

“You’re literally watching a product category be born and it’s going to grow,” said Joanne McNeish, an associate professor at Ryerson University specializing in marketing.

There’s plenty of money to be made in the new market, she said, because people are realizing masks are going to be part of their lives for longer than they imagined, and while out in public they’re stumbling on problems like chafed noses or the need for storage space.

Just 15 per cent of face masks being sold are described as comfortable, 6 per cent are marketed as breathable and 7 per cent are called lightweight, according to research from U.K.-based retail market intelligence company Edited.

Entrepreneurs who can address such problems and predict that unmet need early stand to win, said McNeish.

However, health experts caution that not all of these innovations are a good idea.

Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto Public Health’s associate medical officer of health, said in an email to The Canadian Press that she does not recommend mask lanyards or chains because they can get caught around the wearer’s neck or become contaminated.

People who need to take face coverings off, she said, should store them in a paper bag, envelope or something that does not retain moisture. Plastic bags should only be used for short periods of time and containers must be disinfected regularly.

Regardless of whether an item is encouraged by public health officials, McNeish says entrepreneurs face the challenge of waning interest.

The marketplace can become crowded with similar products and some businesses may create far superior products than what was first available.

“And how many of each of these things will you really need?” she added.

McNeish believes the next wave of mask accessories will involve products that work with Halloween costumes, helmets for winter sports and scarves or that take items that have proven to be hits and make them luxurious or adaptable for health-care workers or other industries.

READ MORE: Medical masks now mandatory in B.C. hospitals, doctors’ offices, care facilities

In Dunmore, Alta., Rick Brink has been using that logic to appeal to brides and grooms.

He runs Weddingstar Inc., a business specializing in bridal products that sells mask travel bags, headbands to hook masks on and a plastic piece you attach to the straps of a mask to prevent ear chafe.

“We wanted to make them so everyone doesn’t look like they are walking out of the hospital,” he said.

The products are appealing to shoppers beyond the wedding market and help the company offset smaller order sizes now that weddings must limit attendees and many couples have put off their nuptials altogether.

Next, Brink said, he will introduce products that help people defog glasses and keep makeup from rubbing off on masks.

While companies are seeing a buzz around their mask accessories now, McNeish warns that it might not last forever.

“At one point when masks are over, the mask accessories industry will collapse because it just won’t be strong enough,” she said.

“Then the question will be will there be demand in countries where they wear masks all the time and will we continue to wear masks when they tell us this is over?”

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Red Deer has nearly doubled its active COVID-19 case count since Feb. 10 and has 75.6 per cent of the Central zone’s active cases. (File photo)
Another new high: Red Deer hits 574 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports 13 new COVID-19 deaths, 430 new cases

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 11 additional deaths over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta
Red Deer active COVID-19 cases drop slightly

Province reports 267 additional COVID-19 cases, 11 new deaths

On Monday, Feb. 22, Island Health listed Glacier View Secondary on 241 Beacher Drive in Courtenay as having a COVID-19 exposure Feb. 17 and 18. Black Press file photo
Red Deer sets new COVID-19 case record

There are now 565 active cases in Red Deer

County
County of Paintearth meeting highlights

The second round of the County of Paintearth’s Land Use Bylaw public engagement survey is now complete

Across the province, there are 2,738 active cases of COVID-19, with 18,417 recovered cases. There have been 288 deaths from the virus in Alberta since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Red Deer has 564 of central zone’s 766 active COVID-19 cases

Government of Alberta identifies 328 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

Mike Ammeter (Photo by Rebecca Hadfield)
Sylvan Lake man elected chair of Canadian Canola Growers Association

Mike Ammeter is a local farmer located near the Town of Sylvan Lake

Students and staff at Gateway Christian School wore pink Wednesday in support of Pink Shirt Day, a worldwide anti-bullying initiative that was started in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Public Schools)
Students, central Alberta community celebrate Pink Shirt Day

Mayor of Sylvan Lake Sean McIntyre supports anti-bullying cause

Minister Rick Wilson poses with Katie at the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin, both wearing her Pink Shirt Day design. Facebook/ Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin Boys and Girls club Pink Shirt day design focuses on kindness

Katie with the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin created this year’s Pink Shirt Day design.

Black Press File Photo
Valentine’s Day shooting in Maskwacis leaves one male in hospital, one male in custody

19-year-old Francis Edward Nepoose from Maskwacis has been charged with attempted murder.

Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker is expected to sentence Satnam Singh Sandhu on Friday. Red Deer Advocate file photo
Updated: Sylvan Lake man pleads guilty to manslaughter for strangling wife in 2019

Kulvinder Sandhu was strangled and died in hospital several days later

Sentencing delayed in the stabbing death of Samantha Sharpe, of Sunchild First Nation. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Central Alberta man not criminally responsible for killing his father in 2020: judge

Psychiatrist testified Nicholas Johnson was psychotic when he killed his father

Most Read