The face of fashion: How face masks became a brand marketing tool

Face masks are now a part of high fashion. Source: Vogue

Every brand knew that spring fashion would look different this year. With most urban centers passing stay-at-home orders to stem coronavirus’ spread, hundreds of thousands of storefronts have closed indefinitely. Disrupted supply chains have limited what brands can produce, and a strong focus on essential shopping has dampened consumer appetite. But even with all of these adversities, the fashion industry has pivoted quickly to offer something people are buying: face masks.

We’ve now seen two waves of high face-mask fashion: the early-responders and the marketing-minded. Early-responders were fast acting in response to our crisis. Many early-mover brands that retooled for face mask-making, like La Ligne and Clare V., prioritized relief efforts by donating to coronavirus charities. Others simply channeled their creative energies, adapted their couture style to make face masks beautiful accessories.

The freshest wave of fashion-mask makers took a little more time to think, and have figured out different “masks as marketing” strategies. High-end designers have introduced matching outfits, with spring patterns and luxurious materials. “Free mask with purchase” has become a hook to drive sales. And branded masks, both for sale and as give-aways, are providing free advertising for masstige and boutique brands alike.

Victoria’s Secret masks provide the PINK brand free advertising. Source: Victoria’s Secret

This industry pivot feels uniquely American. In countries like Korea, where mask wearing was more of a prior norm and more quickly adopted, fashionistas have focused more on eye-makeup than the actual mask aesthetic. America, it seems, is more masterful at driving spending. And looking at our annual ad spend, it’s no wonder: American companies spend 2.7x more on advertising compared to the next biggest spender, China. As they say, it takes money to make money.

The United States leads global marketing spend my a wide margin. Source: Statista

American companies are also exceptionally creative at inventing new market niches. I would have expected Victoria’s Secrets to come up with the provocative mask that looks like lingerie. But Katie May beat them to it.

If lace seems orthogonal to safe face coverage, Katie May begs to differ.

All in all, I tip my protective visor to the fashion industry for getting creative. One of the joys of living in New York is witnessing everyone’s self expression, and right now, the most universal way to do that is through face masks. I’ve collected a few now, with different fabrics, cuts, and patterns. It started out as a search for more comfort, and now, it’s become a statement.

Minimum viable niceness – when high design and average quality make a happy consumer

In the consumer world, design and appearances matter. People want to feel good using the items they buy, for wearing or for everyday use. And with ever-improving just-in-time supply chains and the rapid dispersion of ideas via the internet, it’s hard to keep the best designs a secret. Which has given consumers the M.O. to comparison shop, to find a nice version of the thing they want that will work well and cost less than the ultra premium. We are looking for minimum viable niceness.

There are a few brands that have come up with a mass market model, that have cracked the “fast-follow” code such that they can rapidly roll out a cheaper rendition for a fraction of the price. No, this isn’t the Canal Street equivalent of a “Louis Vuitton” handbag anymore; these items will last well beyond one use. Here’s my view on some of the “nice with a good price” go-tos.

Wayfair

When kitting out my new home, I found lamps and bed frames that looked straight out of a Chelsea furniture store, but at a fraction of the price. I was pleased that products matched the website pictures to the tee.

Macy’s

Their buyers seriously know what they are doing. I’ve seen brands like BCBG that are rapidly losing their brick and mortar footprint have much more stylish pieces at Macy’s with 40% markdowns on top. I also found my futuristic leather couch for a fraction of what the high end decor stores would charge.

Beauty in general

A lot of skin care product quality depends on ingredients more than brands. I advise getting a facial or two and picking the brains of your estheticians. They often have a few recommendations that are inexpensive. And for make-up, I learned from a beauty business person that all eye shadows are basically the same.

Ann Taylor

This one is sort of a hidden gem. I have found some great dresses and accessories there that are nearly runway. It’s hit or miss – but the hits are well worth the browsing.

Stitch Fix

I am continually impressed with their stylists’ ability to find on-trend items, personalized to me, at reasonable prices. I’d give Stitch Fix a try if you don’t have a nose for fashion wins but, rather, “know it when you see it”.

You may be wondering how we got to this point of having so many moderately priced, stylish consumer product king pins. The advent of “masstige” brands like Target in the 1990s brought the the public the idea that they could own decent stuff that represented personal styles at a very reasonable price. This was easier to pull off in the fashion industry to start, where the styles of the season are established a year or so ahead of time, allowing fast fashion houses like Zara and H&M to crank up their supply chains as soon as Italian models hit the runway. The next frontier for affordability after fashion was home decor and furnishings. We saw brands like Ikea and Wayfair give West Elm and RH a run for their money. And beauty brands like L’Oreal convey modest luxury while also being available at CVS. So now, in our great nation, personal style can be done at prices that work with the people and for the people.

One Shoe to Rule them All

We’ve all had to face up to the moment when our favorite pair of shoes is no longer wearable and, worse yet, is out of production. What if we had a way to extend shoe life? Well Mime et moi has cracked that nut with their interchangeable heels!

 Options are endless, from funky to functional for the same flexible sole.
Options are endless, from funky to functional for the same flexible sole.

This solves sooo many challenges: the day to night, client to off site, and general space constraints of a small urban apartment. Magnifico!

 The German fanbase clearly feels the same way - look how happy this lady is!
The German fanbase clearly feels the same way – look how happy this lady is!