Fabric masks: A fashion trend here to stay?


With the reinstallation of day-to-day life after the lockdown, the fabric mask is slowly becoming the most common accessory in our new normal. From vibrant, printed masks to satin ones, it is fair to say it is quite evident that this has almost turned into a trend and taken over social media. 

While the World Health Organisation (WHO) is still gathering evidence of the substantial effectiveness of non-medical face masks or fabric masks, they are continuing to recommend that medical masks be worn by individuals who are sick or caring for the sick. However, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the use of cloth face coverings and fabric masks in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g. grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. 

It has been provided that “the CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus refrain from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure”.

Meanwhile, the guidelines put forward by the Epidemiology Unit in Sri Lanka state that it is adequate for the public to wear commercially available masks/homemade cloth masks consisting of two to three layers of non-allergenic woven material. The guidelines state that “this is to protect them, when they cannot maintain other means of distancing methods or when distancing is not practical. These masks should snugly fit and be secured with ties or ear loops and should allow breathing without restriction. The homemade masks should be washable and dried without damaging the shape by shrinking/being elastic”.

It was further reported recently that the Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI), addressing the press, have also declared the need to have a standard certification for Covid-19 prevention products including face masks, hand wash, and gloves before reaching the export market. In this view, standard guidelines for these products have been put forward by the SLSI, and all manufactures of masks and other products are required to strictly adhere to these guidelines. 

However, with the shortage of medical masks that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers, fabric masks seem to be our best option. In the economic crisis that was brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, some businesses and fashion retailers moved into the manufacturing of fabric masks in order to keep their employees on the payroll as well as do their part to support the community. Thus, currently, numerous local fashion brands such as La Ceyloné, Thambili Island, Selyn, and Barefoot have stepped into the fabric mask scene.

We spoke to some of them to get their two cents about this new venture and the process of mask manufacturing. Shedding some light on the social responsibility behind this process, Thambili Island Founder and Designer Dishnira Saparamadu told that as a local fashion label, this is an opportunity for them to help people get accustomed to the new normal.

“Face masks are here to stay, and a disposable surgical mask a day is not the most sustainable option. So we designed a reusable mask which can serve the same purpose for a longer period of time while remaining trendy and wearable,” she explained.

Thambili Island offers three-ply fabric masks prepared in accordance with the standard surgical mask. It has a linen exterior, a two-ply cotton lining, and a filter pocket in the lining. The masks are available for purchase in packs of four and 10 priced at Rs. 550 and Rs. 1,200, respectively, and can be purchased from the Thambili Island website or their Instagram page. 

Another online store currently focusing on the production and sale of fabric masks is Mr. Maker. Speaking to the folks at Mr. Maker, we found out that most people find the medical masks uncomfortable to wear throughout the day.

Running a printing plant, Mr. Maker offers comfortable custom-made masks with three protective layers: An outer polyester layer, a middle protective fused barrier layer, and an inner breathable cotton layer. We gathered that Mr. Maker masks seem to be popular amongst their clientele due to their unique style and comfort. You can purchase your Mr. Maker fabric masks through their Instagram page at a price of Rs. 575. 

In these circumstances, it appears the fabric mask is the newest fashion accessory in town. However, keeping in mind the importance of responsible consumption, we spoke to Gayanth Wickramarathne, a fashion designer at a reputed retail brand in Colombo, about the fashion responsibility behind this creation.

“As a designer, I think with the ongoing pandemic, we should not forget that whatever the colour or print or material is, we all must equally give priority to the quality standard of the masks that all of us are using. Regardless of how aesthetically pleasing or fashionable it looks, if the mask doesn’t function as a piece of safety equipment, it’s useless, given that it is meant to prevent you from Covid-19,” Gayanth pointed out.

While local businesses are doing their part to fight against the ongoing pandemic, some individuals have taken on the responsibility to do their part by making masks in their homes. 

Vinitha Irangani is one such individual. She told us that she makes masks for the essential workers in her immediate area. She stated that she follows the three-ply fabric mask standard as advised by the authorities.

“We should do our part to help as much as we can, since these people are risking their health and safety to ensure we can transition into the new normal,” she shared. 

Another such individual told us her story in the mask-making scene. “My mom makes saree jackets for a living, so we have a lot of leftover fabric and sewing takes nothing. So we thought we would try to make masks and hand it out to the people on the streets who didn’t have access to clean masks.”

While it is quite promising to see these wonderful gestures of humanity and attempts made by most Sri Lankans to transcend these difficult times and survive together as a community, it is also important to recognise that the fabric mask seems to be creating a promising opportunity to contribute to the national economic growth in this trying time. 

However, whether you are busy at work, doing your part to contribute, or placing your orders to get a brand new fabric mask, we are forced to admit that fashion or not, the fabric mask is probably here to stay.


Thambili Island: @thambili.islandwear

Mr. Maker: @mmake_r