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

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

North Westside residents can dispose of their unwanted bulky items between June 30 and July 14, 2021. (File photo)
North Westside residents can soon get rid of unwanted bulky items

Large household items can be disposed of at North Westside Transfer Station June 30 to July 14

Starting in 2022, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District is extending dog control to the entire Electoral Area D area. (Stock photo)
Dog control bylaw passes in Shuswap area despite ‘threatening’ emails

CSRD board extending full dog control to Electoral Area D; director calls for respectful discussion

The new Civic Memorial Park will incorporate pieces of the 80-year-old arena it replaces. (Artists rendering)
Pieces of Civic Arena reclaimed for new Vernon park

City centre space to incorporate wood from the historic arena

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

The Pierre family, an Indigenous family, once lived in what is now downtown Summerland. Today, Pierre Drive is named in honour of the family. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Pierre family played role in Summerland’s history

Downtown Summerland was once Penticton Indian Reserve #3

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Jaimee Peters photo of a Willow Midwives helping with a birth. Willow closed its doors March 31 because of a shortage of midwives. (Contributed)
South Okanagan’s only midwifery to re-open this summer

Willow Community Midwives was forced to close because of a shortage of midwives

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Gord with a mom and her young son outside Pathways which was defunded on May 31. (Facebook)
Gord Portman with a mom and her child outside of Pathways. The sign says it all about the difference Pathways has made in people’s lives. They were defunded by Interior Health on May 31.
Penticton man takes the plunge for the recovery house that helped save his life

Gord Portman said Discovery House and Pathways have been everything in his 1 year sobriety

Most Read