Retailers cash in on new ‘mask economy’ amid pandemic

(CNN) -- A simple safety staple amid the global pandemic is giving the business of accessories a new face.

It took just a few days for Meghan Navoy to pivot her small textiles business, Rosemarine Textiles, to making face masks.

“I at first was just giving them for free in a bin on my front porch. Then there was a huge surge in demand, and I listed them on my Etsy shop” Navoy said. “I have had my shop for two years; I’ve never had anything that had this sort of demand.”

Etsy says more than 12 million masks were sold in April alone and Navoy had to pause sales of all her products for a month just to clear her backlog of mask orders.

Three months on, the masks are still one of her top three bestselling items and she’s hired an extra person to help her.

“I think people had no mask at all in the beginning and now I think most people have at least one to wear. Now, it’s more people who are looking for a cute mask that goes with their style,” Navoy said.

That shift has brought much larger businesses into the face mask market, despite the political back and forth.

Luxury brands such as Marc Jacobs, whose $100 masks are sold out, to retailers like Gap, are rushing into the growing business.

Just in May, Gap sold more than 3 million masks across its different brands.

Brands are using masks as an opportunity to showcase their signature styles, such as Levis bandana-print mask. The company says their masks have been the most viewed item on their website for the past six weeks.

It’s not just the world of fashion that is capitalizing on the mask industry. Companies, such as Dunkin Donuts, are demonstrating how masks have become a marketing opportunity.

“I think it’s becoming an ubiquitous staple and there’s no good reason why most retailers wouldn’t provide it either as a customer service feature, or as a branding opportunity, or as a fashion accessory,” Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University said. “This is an opportunity to create a brand-new genre of accessories.”

In early April, Vistaprint, the company best know for business cards and custom signage, realized their customers needs had changed as businesses began to look towards reopening.

“For us to get into face mask was a pretty, pretty easy decision. We worked to serve small businesses every single day,” Vistaprint CMO Ricky Engelberg said. “And one of the biggest things we saw that was going to happen was small businesses had to able reopen safely.”

Vistaprint says it can now producer a couple of hundred thousand masks a month, with the ability to scale.

“Will it be a category that is as urgent as it is right now, a year from now? Probably not. Will it be something that’s way more part of our everyday lives going forward than it is, that it was six months ago? Definitely,” Engelberg said.

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