Tracking designer masks: who is making them and where are they going?

Fashion brands turn into mask-making units crafting the life-saving accessory in ikat, khadi, organic cotton, jamdani, and more

Updated - April 19, 2020 12:58 pm IST

Published - April 17, 2020 03:28 pm IST

A mask by Shivan and Narresh

A mask by Shivan and Narresh

With the extended lockdown, and face masks now compulsory for anyone stepping out, we take a look at designer mask makers. Global fashion behemoths like Gucci and Louis Vuitton have added motif to motive, but designers back home aren’t lagging behind. Joining the bandwagon this week is designer Masaba Gupta with her initiative, Maskaba. She took to Instagram to announce that a small team is making non-surgical masks for donation at her production facility. Also, as part of Fashion Design Council of India’s (FDCI) Covid-19 Support Fund, every donation of ₹2,000 will receive a pack of seven masks designed by Nagpur-based Shruti Sancheti. “The idea is not to do it for the limelight but to help in the overall efforts to give vulnerable people the first layer of protection,” says FDCI president, Sunil Sethi. Meanwhile, designer duo Shivan and Narresh plan to give out cotton-jersey masks with every order placed on their website.

With the global mask shortage, experts have been urging people not on the frontline of the battle to use cloth masks. The effectiveness of masks varies: between fabric, surgical and N95 variants. The last is best used by health workers, but sanitised fabric masks are getting popular among ordinary citizens. Some designers are also adding layers of fabric to their masks. “We iron our masks with a hot pressing iron to kill any viruses,” says Uma Prajapati of Auroville-based conscious fashion label, Upasana. Her team is crafting neem masks (At ₹100 each on Others are using sanitising machines or treating masks with sanitising sprays.

Fashion students are also chipping in. Students of Mumbai-based design school Pearl Academy have worked on masks for medical workers at a local hospital. Initiated by faculty member Kali Rawat, some are made from muslin cloth and others come with attached plastic sheets. Simran Oswal in Karnataka, another fashion student, attaches a plastic shield covered in doodles to masks and distributes them to staff at a hospital where her father (a doctor) works.

The new normal

One of the goals is to offer a variant to monotone masks and to normalise them. “People, whether healthy or unwell, should not be terrified at the sight of someone else wearing masks,” says Delhi-based designer Manish Tripathi, who is crafting cotton, khadi, jamdani and ikat masks from leftover fabric. “My weavers are now excited to see their fabric used in masks,” says the designer, who plans on cotton denim ones soon. Apart from selling them (₹800 on, Tripathi will continue distributing the masks to vulnerable communities along with the help of a local police station.

Shield it
  • Along with masks, another protective gear gaining importance is the face shield. Geared up with a pair of 3-D Printers at home, 19-year-old Satya Schiavina in Puducherry, who is pursuing science at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, is manufacturing face shields for the medical community and commoners.
  • Complete with a frame and the plastic sheet, the shield was first handed out at the Shri Aurobindo Ashram, and later to a few hospitals, after altering the design to make it more robust. Going foward, Schiavina plans on switching to laser-cut face shields as opposed to the 3D printed ones. While the latter manages to make 108 face shields a day, the former makes one face shield in one minute. For details, call 9894042756

For most designers, however, the underlying need is to meet the growing demand. Municipal bodies, like the one in Mumbai, have collaborated with labels like Anita Dongre and Karleo. “When the lockdown hit us, we approached the government with our proposal to make masks; we had a prototype ready since we were catering to mask orders from the West,” says Leon Vaz of Karleo, whose masks have so far found their way to policemen and security guards at hospitals and municipal workers. “We encourage using different designs so that people don’t end up wearing each other’s masks,” points out Vaz.

Masks by Upasana

Masks by Upasana

But managing logistics is tricky. “Two health volunteers from our team move about locally and take care of the distribution,” says Prajapati,who is making organic handwoven cotton masks come in two variants. The first has a woven grid of silver thread (which creates an energetic protection field around the wearer’s head). Through its air-ionizing action, the grid also reinforces the immune system by eliminating the positive charge of harmful free radicals in the air we breathe. The second is a neem-infused one which promises calming, anti-allergic and detoxifying properties.

Similarly, Karleo has been permitted to get five members of its team to mobilise women artisan clusters in Mumbai and Rajasthan to work from their homes. “The women keep baskets outside their homes for us to drop off the material, and place the finished products in them for us to collect,” explains Vaz.

Call of the times

Designers also ensure that the stipulated hygiene standards, for the products and its makers, are adhered to. Shruti Sancheti — who recently supplied the Delhi Police Force with around 5,000 masks — sanitises her masks at the local hospital’s sanitisation plant. And Noida-based Pallavi Mohan ensures that there is a gap of 1.5 m between each person in the factory. “Apart from wearing gloves and hair caps, a team makes sure they sanitise the workers’ hands at regular intervals,” explains Mohan.

DIY at home
  • Designer Nitya Bajaj’s Instagram tutorial on how to make masks out of (brand new) socks could be of particular interest for the home-bound DIY artistes. Similarly, inspired by their latest Mujigay collection, Shivan and Narresh has an Instagram filter where you could see yourself wearing a variety of masks.

Meanwhile, Delhi-based Narresh Kukreja of designer duo Shivan and Narresh has an Instagram filter to liven things up. The exercise is to change the social perception of wearing masks from a liability to a fashionable asset. He also hopes to up the design game with options in prints, leather, and perhaps embellishment. “Irrespective of the social occasion, it will be nice to step out in designer masks. The aim is for them to be statement pieces too,” he concludes.

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