Masks made by Toronto fashion designer Hayley Elsaesser are shown in this undated handout photo. Toronto fashion designer Hayley Elsaesser was unsure about adding face masks to her clothing brand two months ago, ordering just a “small amount” of samples to test out demand through her online shop. When those bold, colourful masks sold out “within two hours” she realized how popular they had actually become. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Hayley Elsaesser

Masks made by Toronto fashion designer Hayley Elsaesser are shown in this undated handout photo. Toronto fashion designer Hayley Elsaesser was unsure about adding face masks to her clothing brand two months ago, ordering just a “small amount” of samples to test out demand through her online shop. When those bold, colourful masks sold out “within two hours” she realized how popular they had actually become. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Hayley Elsaesser

Fashionable face masks mark new trend: Canadian designers go bold in mask style

Canadians are beginning to turn towards masks amid the pandemic

Toronto fashion designer Hayley Elsaesser was unsure about adding face masks to her clothing brand two months ago, ordering just a “small amount” of samples to test out demand through her online shop.

When those bold, colourful masks sold out “within two hours” she realized how popular they had actually become.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced North Americans to be more accepting of the type of mask culture that has been widely adopted in other parts of the world.

And now Canadian fashion designers are catching up to their Eastern counterparts in making cloth face masks more vibrant and — they hope — more enjoyable to wear.

“This is something that’s taking over half your face, so you might as well make a statement with it,” said Elsaesser, who herself was inspired by Japanese mask fashion. ”It can be a little bit weird to start wearing a mask in the first place. … So by tying in the fashion statement, it makes it a little more palatable for people wearing them for the first time.

“It becomes something to be excited about, rather than (focusing on) the reality of why you have to wear a mask in the first place.”

READ MORE: Non-medical masks can help when physical distancing not possible, says Tam

Elsaesser’s masks, made of washable, quilted jersey fabric, sell on her online shop for $25, with 20 per cent of her profits donated to the Food Banks Canada COVID-19 Response Fund.

Her patterns are bright, distinct and quirky — like the one with 8-balls donning blue cowboy hats on a leopard-print background, or the one with teal and pink beetles scattered over a light purple backdrop.

Elsaesser says those wacky patterns represent her own personal style. But they have added benefits as well.

“Obviously safety is more important than looking fashionable but it’s really important to help your mental self feel good too,” Elsaesser said. “Something that really helps my mental health and just being a more positive person is putting on an outfit that lifts my spirits.

“And I’ve noticed that people react really positively to me when I’m wearing a cute printed mask.”

Elsaesser said she was initially hesitant to sell the masks out of fear of being viewed as someone who was capitalizing off a pandemic.

Other Canadian designers struggled with that too.

Katrin Leblond, designer and owner of Montreal’s Boutique Katrin Leblond, said she received hate mail when she added cloth masks to her online shop early into the pandemic.

Leblond was on vacation in Barbados in March when COVID-19 started spreading internationally. She decided then to halt production on her spring line and focus her efforts on making and selling reusable masks for the general public instead.

“People were rushing around buying Lysol and toilet paper, and it just didn’t feel right trying to promote this beautiful new collection that I made when that wasn’t where people were at,” Leblond said.

“I was just intuiting what was going on and when I posted the first batch of 50 masks, I got hate mail, like full-on: ‘you greedy corporate pig profiting off a pandemic.’ So it was really intense. … But (the masks) sold so quickly. So the numbers and the messages were contradictory.”

Leblond estimates she sold 5,000 masks during her first month, forcing her to find a new fabric cutter who could cut larger quantities at a time.

She uses her own custom prints — mostly bright florals and nature motifs — and sells masks in a variety four-pack for $79. They’re made of organic cotton and they’re reversible, with a plain backside.

Leblond also sells unprinted black masks, at the insistence of her 25-year-old brother who thought she should diversify a bit from the usual “joyful, feminine, folk-art inspired” tone of her designs.

Lennard Taylor, owner of the Winnipeg-based Lennard Taylor Design Studio, says colourful face masks have become a means of self-expression at a time of increased loneliness and anxiety.

“This is the new way of smiling,” he said. “It’s (about) wearing a fun, funky print that will make somebody else smile underneath their own mask.”

READ MORE: Pandemic brings success to Indigenous artist carving COVID masks

Taylor has produced 60 different patterns that reflect his “modern and sophisticated” fashion style, but only one is shown on his site. Customers can make certain requests — a preferred colour scheme, for example — but orders are filled based on what’s in stock on a given day.

Taylor said he also received criticism when he decided to sell his $20 cotton masks, but he saw the new venture as a way to keep his employees working during a time of mass layoffs around the country.

“I’m doing my best to keep my business going, paying my employees and having a little bit extra money that I can donate to various charities in my city,” he said.

While fashion designers don’t know how long the need for non-medical masks will last, they do believe the pandemic is changing the way North Americans perceive them.

And making them more fashionable might be helping.

“Oftentimes things formed out of necessity eventually turn into something designers take and make into fashion, so hopefully it’s something that becomes more sought after versus being seen as a negative thing,” Elsaesser said.

“I thought this was going to be a really small blip on my website, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.”

Leblond says the desire to express beauty through fashion won’t go away either.

“My whole life has been answering the question of: is what I do superficial? Is fashion superficial?” she said. “And I’ve found that beauty makes people happy … maybe now more than ever.”

Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusFashion and Style

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce. (Contributed photo)
South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce to host virtual COVID-19 town hall

Online event to include local politicians and representatives from Fraser Health, WorkSafe BC

At least one person received life-threatening injuries when a car collided with a semi truck in South Surrey on Friday morning. (Brenda Anderson photo)
VIDEO: South Surrey crash sends one to hospital in critical condition

Road closures in effect after collison between car and semi-truck

Ben “Santa” Cohen visits Ecole Martha Currie in Cloverdale Dec. 4. Santa wished everyone a socially-distanced Merry Christmas out in front of the school. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Santa visits Ecole Martha Currie in Cloverdale

First gig of the season for Ben ‘Santa’ Cohen; COVID driving most gigs online

Shawn Canil, a Cloverdale-area resident, turns heads with the truck he’s decorated for Christmas. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Truck’s Christmas decorations lift spirits on Cloverdale man’s commute

‘When I see them smiling, I know it’s worth it,’ pickup driver Shawn Canil says

Gurbaz Singh, deli manager at the Cloverdale Country Market, arranges some gifts in the back of a vintage car. The car is part of the Cloverdale Country Market’s “December to Remember” picture taking area. The market is encouraging people to come down, snap some Christmas pics and share them on social media. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
PHOTOS: Cloverdale Country Market creates Christmas picture space

Market cancels annual Christmas Craft Fair, replaces it with Christmas picture zone

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Chilliwack General Hospital. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress file)
Chilliwack mother upset about son’s alleged suicide attempt after hospital discharge

Rhonda Clough said 34-year-old son suffering with bipolar disorder should have been kept in hospital

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

Most Read