On 22 July, wearing face masks or face coverings will become mandatory in public spaces across metropolitan Melbourne. But as retailers struggle to keep up with the surging demand, finding a reusable face mask can be a challenge.
Aleksandra Nedeljkovic, chief operating officer of The Social Studio, a Melbourne-based social enterprise and fashion training program, says that, in the last week, the organisation has sold between 4,000 and 5,000 masks.
Every day at 9am, they make a new allotment of masks available online, and within half an hour, they’ve sold out. People have even showed up at The Social Studio’s physical store looking for masks – which Nedeljkovic strongly discourages, as the shop is closed to keep staff and the public safe.
“It’s been kind of crazy. We’re quite a small team and we’re making as many masks as we can as quickly as we can.”
They’re not alone – face masks were sold out or on back order at many retailers reviewed by Guardian Australia. Fortunately, it is relatively simple to make your own mask.
The Social Studio connected with the Victorian government and reviewed their guidelines on masks, to ensure the masks they were making would be up to standard – then they partnered with the Victorian government to make an instructional video and pattern for creating your own mask.
“Essentially there are three different types of fabric that need to be included,” Nedeljkovic explains. “One is an outer layer which needs to be water repellant, then there’s an … interfacing layer that helps keep nasty particales out, then the inner layer is a breathable fabric, like 100% cotton. It’s those three combined that make a mask effective.”
Nedeljkovic says that, provided you can get the right fabric – “which shouldn’t be too tricky” – anyone can make their own mask. If finding cloth to do so is difficult, you can even take a leaf out of The Social Studio’s manufacturing playbook, and repurpose fabric from existing garments you no longer use, or even a reusable shopping bag (for the outer layer of the mask).
Although the pace has been frantic for Nedeljkovic and her “troops” – a group of “really talented and dedicated people” from refugee and new migrant backgrounds – she sees the spiking demand as a positive. “People are clearly trying to do the right thing.”
For those who would prefer to buy, rather than make their own mask, stylist Emma Read has compiled a list of reusable face masks to suit a range of tastes and budgets.
If you purchased a face mask during the bushfire crisis, it may be suitable to wear now, however, the Victorian guidelines advise against wearing masks that feature holes or a valve, as “this can result in breathing out the virus if you have coronavirus”.
Please note that while stocks of most were available at the time of writing, some may have sold out or gone on back order subsequently.
Three layer and filter masks
Comfortable, cotton, adjustable and tested to a KN90 standard – tick. Bonus points for 100% of proceeds being directed to empowering youth through quality education and access to healthcare via the Cotton On Foundation.
The multi-hyphenate that is The Social Studio (part fashion school in partnership with RMIT, part design studio, part retail and more) quickly diverted current manufacturing to supply medical scrubs and reusable face masks at cost price. Due to product sell-throughs, the current wait time is 7-21 days from purchase.
Hey Reflect’o black reusable face mask, $29
Australian made and eco-friendly, Adelaide-based Lisa Penney has added face masks to her hi-vis cycler-friendly arsenal.
Australian not-for-profit retailer and manufacturer The Social Outfit are no stranger to employing fashion as a cause for change. Their day-to-day operations provide work and training in the fashion industry to refugees and new migrant communities.
Each mask sold contributes to a buy-one-give-one model, supplying a mask to a person in need. Due to product sell-throughs, mask purchases have been capped at a daily limit, and orders will take a minimum seven-day turnaround.
Alperstein Designs reusable face mask, $12.95
A longstanding champion of Indigenous art, the team at Alperstein Designs created range of face masks featuring artworks reproduced under license from Warlukurlangu artists – a not-for-profit that is 100% Aboriginal-owned. Royalties from this product directly benefit the artists from the remote desert communities of Yuendumu and Nyirripi in Central Australia. Due to product sell-throughs, this item is currently on waitlist and will be dispatched in 10-14 days upon ordering.
For the sensitive-skinned among us, silk is a much gentler option – this Papinelle number comes with a filter insert for extra protection (filters sold separately). Due to product sell-throughs, this item is currently on pre-order and will ship on 24 July.
Two layer cloth masks
Ford Millinery reusable face mask (varied prints), $24.95
Generally known for her millinery expertise on the racecourse, designer Chantelle Ford has helmed a “mask for mates” scheme, donating a mask for every purchase to the Salvation Army.
Ethically accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia, and Supply Nation registered, these simple pleated masks from The Ark come in five packs of assorted colours, with a buy-one-give-one program benefitting women experiencing domestic violence.
For the streetwear-conscious, Culture Kings have a range of cotton masks in covetable prints – plus a matching hoodie if you’re looking to step up your quarantine loungewear game.
Printed face masks, $15
Made by a group of Indigenous women in Taree in northern New South Wales (Biripi country), these printed masks are currently being distributed by Darkies Design and Supply Aus. While they’re not presently available to buy direct from the websites, you can register your interest in purchasing one by emailing [email protected]
A one-of-a-kind tie-dye set in comfortable knit and lycra, with an added feel-good: for every mask pack sold, Everlane donates 10% of sales to the American Civil Liberties Union.
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