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

District of houston
Council dips into surplus for highway project

Costs have risen to place utility lines underground

“Skeena,” by John Hudson and Paul Hanslow is one of five fonts in the running to become the default for Microsoft systems and Office programs. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Font named after Skeena River could become the next Microsoft default

One of the five new fonts will replace Calibri, which has been Microsoft’s default since 2007

Accessibility improvements and more classrooms at the Houston Christian School should be completed by the new school year. (Houston Today photo)
Accessibility improvements coming to Houston Christian School

Construction package includes two classrooms

The soft opening of the nature centre at the Buck Creek CANFOR hatchery took place mid-April. (Angelique Houlihan photo/Houston Today)
Houston hatchery and nature centre’s upcoming events

The conservation group to host summer students this year

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

Most Read