The pandemic has got millions of people worldwide locked down bringing with it a lot of warranted fear and panic. Also to accept that we don’t seem to be getting out of the clasp of this deadly virus any time soon makes us feel helpless and worried about our health, planning for times ahead. While people are working on boosting their immunity they are conscious that guarding physical contact at all times is also essential when we step out. And for that, all safety measures must be in place.

The WHO and health officials world over have emphasized the applications of masks and administrations have announced mandatory use of masks ever since the spread. Until recently we would most often only find doctors or health workers use disposable surgical masks, so masks were only a utility product. But since the last few months there has been a surge in the demand for masks- surgical, disposable masks for medical personnel and the non-surgical, reusable, washable ones for all the others. So we see the application has now widened from masks being only a utility product to also becoming a fashion statement.

The demand is expected to rise even more; imagine the mighty population of the world, and every person owning at least one mask, many owning multiple masks because of the wear and tear, the wash and wear- hygiene considerations, some buying masks to match their clothing or their style of dressing and some just wanting variety. In short, masks have now become an indispensable accessory.

For the textile and fashion industry, this is a new product line so they have capitalized on the opportunity, and the mood of the people, and offer to cater to the functional and fashion needs across all segments. Masks offering protection against dust and pollution, safety from airborne infections and primarily prevention in spread of some diseases are up for sale in a variety of features, sizes, colors, layers, fabrics (cotton, silk, jute, khaki, woven, knitted, etc.), prints and styles. Companies are now offering reversible, washable, reusable masks and also masks with loops adjustable in length. A lot of innovation is still underway. Only recently it was in the news that transparent masks are also here so people can be identified even when wearing masks.

From a commercial and business perspective it is estimated that a huge bulk of the demand for masks would be for fashion masks, while only a small part would comprise of disposable, surgical masks for use mainly by health professionals. A large number of companies are sourcing machinery for mask manufacturing foreseeing an ongoing demand for a good time, and in the last few months a lot of developments have taken place in this direction. Big brands like Louis Philippe, Allen Solly, Van Heusen, Zodiac, Raymonds, Fabindia, and many more have begun producing and most are distributing their products online through e-commerce channels. It is also being explored by some companies to offer masks as a package to match with garments if required by customers.

Outside domestic consumption, the textile industry is also hoping to capitalize on the huge export market for masks that could fetch substantial revenues. The Government of India had banned exports of all kinds of masks in March. However, in mid-May the exports of non-medical category masks were allowed which predominantly constitute fashion masks made from cotton, silks, wools, and knitted fabrics. The export of surgical masks still remains banned.

India now has a surplus production facility of masks, many companies have unused inventories and idle capacities since they have now slowed the production because masks are in excess supply. While the domestic demand is expected to rise too with the ease in lockdown and travel resumptions, the industry is looking for the government to ease exports of all kinds of masks. And the Government on its part wants to take a calculated decision for the same consideration that there will be a spike in domestic demand as the economic activity and trade resumes. So at all times the domestic demand needs to be met in priority. Talks are on and a decision is likely soon.

In the backdrop of this devastating COVID-19 virus, our modest mask has earned a fancy demand and is now a lifestyle product- a fashion fad!

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