From Health to Fashion: How an unobservant accessory became a style-statement


TNT Features:

By Aparmita Das

The present pandemic has raised the popularity of an unobservant accessory, mask, all over the world. Out of the many accessories that flaunt in the fashion industry, masks have become a central theme of it today.

Be it Billie Eilish wearing a Gucci mask on the red carpet of Grammy Awards, or youngsters walking in the busy street of Police Bazaar, masks have become a style statement. Since time immemorial, it has played a dominant role in laboratories and hospitals but, it is worth mentioning that many Asian countries like Japan and South Korea developed the habit of wearing a mask even before the emergence of a global pandemic, COVID-19. Masks were worn for protection from pollution or as a part of a healthy habit when one has flu or any other communicable disease. The idea of “a mask being part of fashion” did exist before but not much attention was paid to it, until recently. Now health, fashion, and mask go hand-in-hand.

A teacher by profession, Stacey Rozetta Iarilang Nongbri, indulged herself in the business of mask-making around July. It solely started upon the request of her family members because, at that time, there were very few people selling hand-made masks; so Stacy decided to try her hand at it using simple materials that were readily available at home. Soon after getting the hang of it, she began advertising them for sale by simply uploading pictures on social media, and in no time, she received positive responses from the viewers.

“To be honest, the masks I make are not entirely special! But they are very comfortable. This comes from the feedback I have received from people who have purchased them,” said Stacy. The masks are also customised depending on the customers’ request.

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Stacy not only looks at the functional aspect of the double or triple-layered masks but also makes sure that they are fancy and fashionable, some of which are even topped off with lace and beads, while some are painted. The price of her masks ranges from ₹60 to ₹100, depending on the type of masks ordered, which is certainly quite reasonable. “According to researchers at Cambridge University, cotton cloth is considered as the best material to be used for DIY home-made masks.” Stacy is thankful to her parents for investing in the sewing machine that has made making hundreds of masks possible. She is grateful to God for blessing her with a supportive family and also endowing upon her with skills and talents to be a contributing member of society.

“My masks are unique and special as they are home-made three-ply masks equipped with a filter, stainless lining & breathable synthetic fabric. They are comfortable to wear and are of different sizes depending upon the age group (0-3 yrs/ 4-7yrs/8-13 yrs/ large & extra-large),” said the twenty-year-old student, Darren Dkhar Phanbuh.

The masks made by Darren are beautifully hand-painted and the price ranges between ₹40-₹100/- each according to size and design. Since coronavirus has locked people behind doors, Darren, like any other student, has been restricted from going to college and meeting with friends but he has been using his time efficiently by making a progress in his mask-making business which has also enabled him to lend a helping hand in the family's expenditure.

Habamon Nongkynrih, who specialises mainly in embroidery works on Jaiñsem (traditional attire of the Khasis), initially had no interest in making masks until the end of the nation-wide lockdown: August 2, 2020, when she made embroidered masks for her family. The family members indirectly publicised her work on social media and then she started receiving requests from every corner of Shillong, and eventually, it became a home-made mask-making business for her. “They are not that different from any other mask. The mask I make is as per the customer-design specifications. But yes! My masks also come with matching hair bands and scrunchies, making them even more fashionable," Habamon said.

The price of her masks ranges from ₹50 to ₹180 depending on the designs.

“I think people can opt for any mask as long as it covers their mouth and nose and they are comfortable in it, but that doesn't mean that it has to be boring. If we're going to wear it, we can wear it in style.”

Lalhmingmawii, Hmingmawii or HM started making masks from March basically for distribution, thinking that could be her contribution towards society but slowly as the demand for masks grew, she decided to go commercial with it. Her masks consist of 3 layers, innermost and the middle is purely cotton and the outer-most is made up of fancy material to make it more interesting, and fun to wear. The shape is designed in such a way that it is breathable. It is drafted and crafted carefully to prevent smudging of lip colour (for ladies). It comes in various colours and sizes, from kids to men's size. More varieties for ladies have been introduced in embroidery, letter embroidery, motifs, floral, beaded hand works, and plain solid colours to match daily outfits. She has also started making bridal masks for the bride and the groom. The price ranges from ₹100 to ₹500 (luxury wear).

“We still distribute them whenever there is any need to do so. Our main objective is not to sell and make a profit but to help someone out there in need. We want to reach out to as many users as possible”, said Hmingmawii and her team.

Ibawanpli Khar Lyngkhoi, a post-graduate in the field of Botany, developed a new hobby-cum-business during this pandemic, and thanks to social media, she received immense support from her friends and followers. The masks she makes with the help of her sister are mostly customized as per the clients’ requirements, thus making them unique. Apart from being fancy, the masks are comfortable and cost-efficient with the price ranging between ₹50 to ₹150. These masks also come with matching hair bands and scrunchies.

“Though the pandemic has taken a lot from us, it has also made us realise that one can always start over. This experience has benefitted me not only financially but has also brought a sense of accomplishment to achieve something in life,” Iba said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, not many people had access to masks. It was during March 28, 2020, when a team, consisting of young members, came up with a project called “Project Face Mask” -- an initiative of making simple yet effective facemasks.

These masks were made available to people, who were not as fortunate as the rest and, who ran at a higher risk of being exposed to the virus.

A member named Gerry Nongrum mentioned in an interview: “A group as small as ours might have not made much of an impact but, I believe along the way, through all our initiatives, we have somehow inspired and helped a few people who were in need by giving them the hope for a better tomorrow.”

(Special thanks to Ladiangti Rani for the inputs)