May 23, 2020 - Economy

The rise of the designer face mask

Illustrated collage of a mask with quarters falling around.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Craftsy entrepreneurs are doing brisk business in the new cottage industry of selling artisanal face masks.

What's happening: Online stores are selling out of face masks within minutes of listing new stock — in some cases, after being featured in an article from the likes of GQ, Vogue or the lifestyle blog Man Repeller.

  • Etsy, long seen as a purveyor of artisan-made goods, reported in a recent earnings call that in April the platform saw $133 million in sales of fabric face masks.

What they're saying:

Adrienne Antonson, founder of STATE the Label in Athens, Ga., says that from the moment her small-batch, hand-painted clothing company started offering masks, it could barely keep up with demand. The company is selling and donating masks, and published a pattern for others to use.

  • "We sold out of 25 masks within minutes." says Antonson. "We said, 'Let’s restock.' By the end of the day, we had sold 200 masks within 14 minutes."
  • To date, STATE has donated 800 masks and sold just over 200.

Naomi Mishkin, the Brooklyn-based designer behind made-to-order clothing line Naomi Nomi, had a similar experience. (Her company is donating a mask for every one sold.)

  • At first — specifically, on Friday, April 3, at 5:50 p.m. — her company had about 500 requests to be on a waitlist for masks.
  • Ten minutes later, the New York Times blasted out an alert saying the CDC had officially recommended wearing face masks. Minutes later — at 6:05 p.m. — "GQ dropped an article saying 'here are 5 brands that are selling them,'" Mishkin recalls.
  • "We were #3. By the end of the weekend, we had requests for 10,000 masks."

Designers largely aren't profiting on mask sales — but they're keeping their businesses alive and their employees on payroll, and in some cases expanding their customer base.

  • Some are also raising serious money for charity. An example: Detroit-based clothing brand DIOP raised $28,500 (as of Friday evening) for Feed the Frontlines Detroit, which supports local restaurants and serves meals to emergency and health care workers.
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