In a new normal where masks are mandatory, how do you find one that is in line with your ethical criteria? A whole host of sustainable fashion brands are providing the answers, with face coverings that benefit the maker, the wearer, and the planet as well.
It’s mid-2020, and face coverings are fast becoming a part of our daily reality. Now mandatory for many in public places, wearing a mask is a simple way to show respect for others and do our bit to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Adopting a lifestyle change to protect those around us is an easy decision, but the hard part is deciding which mask to go for. From materials to supply chains, take every doubt you’ve ever had when seeking out sustainable clothing – it turns out these apply to face coverings too.
There’s the humanitarian side: does buying up surgical masks mean less PPE for frontline workers? Haven’t there been stories of modern slavery in mask-making supply chains too? Add to that the ecological effects of single use face coverings – remember those conservationists, warning that there will be more masks than jellyfish in our oceans post-pandemic? All in all, our eco-anxiety is getting out of hand.
The simplest solution is opting for a reusable fabric face covering. While it’s important to emphasise that these are not medical grade, this type of face mask can still be used with a filter to protect against the spread of airborne droplets. Meanwhile, surgical masks can be left to the professionals, and the usage of disposable ones is drastically reduced. As for slavery, the rule is simple: either make your own, or buy your fabric masks from a source you trust.
The good news is that there are many positive initiatives out there. A whole host of sustainable fashion and beauty brands are using the rising demand for masks as a force for good, providing financial stability to their craftspeople, or even instigating ‘Buy One, Donate One’ schemes to provide face coverings to vulnerable communities. It turns out it’s an excellent way to use up offcuts too.
Below is a selection of favourites, from soft silks to naturally antibacterial linens, made by volunteers, artisans, and those who just want to help out in any way they can.
Born to help bring financial empowerment to Maldivian women, Majoie Maldives has branched out of its usual spectrum of skincare to offer dream-worthy silk face coverings during the pandemic. Mask making provides an opportunity for the local women to continue earning despite the change in circumstances, while a percentage of the profits go directly to female empowerment projects in partnership with the Meedhoo Ekuveringe Cheynu NGO.
During the pandemic, UpWrap has pivoted from producing stylish fabric gift wrappings in order to help provide face coverings to frontline workers. An open call for volunteers has allowed the brand to supply its creations to care homes and hospitals alike, with a select few being sold online in order to fund the production. With an UpWrap mask, 100% of the proceeds will be put back into the project and help to protect communities most at risk.
Trust Copenhagen to be home to the most aesthetically pleasing masks around. Danish brand Helmstedt has upcycled quirky deadstock fabrics from its SS20 collection into a series of colourful coverings – from its signature strawberry print to a cool colour-block design. All profits will be donated to WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund which is coordinating the global effort by supporting countries to prevent, detect, and respond to the pandemic.
Who knew masks could be so pretty? From its signature floral prints to a rainbow of colourful silks, Christy Dawn has created sustainable face coverings that are just as covetable as its dresses. Made using sustainable deadstock fabric and sewn in the brand’s Los Angeles factory, each mask helps to protect you and those around you, at the same time as diverting excess fabric from entering landfills.
Made of double-layered linen with natural antibacterial properties, masks from designer Rachel Craven are sewn in downtown Los Angeles and come in a Pinterest-worthy palette of pretty summer shades. Sold as part of a ‘Buy one, Give one’ initiative, the brand has pledged that for every mask purchased it will donate one to Haven Hills, a community organization providing shelter, safety and support to survivors of domestic violence.
Working with craftswomen in Indonesia’s rural villages, SukkhaCitta works with plant-based fibres and dyes, traceable to the farmer level. The three-layered Hope masks are made by a group of 14 Indonesian mothers, and fund the women to be able to donate masks to frontline workers around the country too. Each mask is made from a sustainable power trio of linen, cotton and Tencel, before being hand dyed with foraged indigo leaves from the local forests.
Gender neutral basics brand Riley Studios have also expanded into mask making, bringing their defining minimalist mood to face coverings too. Sewn in London using fabric off cuts and dead stock waste fabric, Riley Studios’ masks are made from cotton and come with built-in pockets designed to fit PM 2.5 filters.
Summery shades in an array of handwoven twills, these organic face coverings from Antakarana Threads have been designed to provide financial support the brand’s community of weavers in rural India. Each mask is made from surplus woven textile that they have not been able to sell during this period, instead repurposing it into washable, reusable masks. Perfect for complimenting your holiday linens.
Our longstanding sustainable fashion favourite Birdsong has put its rainbow ‘Optimist’ tees slogan on face masks for a much-needed boost of positivity in these tricky times. With its ethically produced trio of colourful coverings, the London-based brand encourages wearers to “be optimistic for a better future and support our seamstresses with living wage work.” Each is made from end of the roll or reclaimed cotton in orange, white or black.
The non-profit Nest is best known for its work supporting artisans around the world, and this has only been amplified by the global pandemic. Its website houses a hub of masks made by individual craftspeople from the Malawi to Guatemala, encouraging individuals to support the handworker economy through this financially turbulent time. Some of our favourites? These colourful cotton prints from Mayamiko.
Follow our guide to make your own reusable face mask at home.