In the space of just a few weeks, face masks have gone from personal protection to high street hero. Now they’ve become a bona fide essential - something we’ll take everywhere along with our phones, wallets and house keys - following the Government’s latest announcement that face coverings will be compulsory on public transport from 15th June.
But this kind of necessary protection doesn’t have to compromise your personal style, at least not if the British Fashion Council has anything to do with it.
On Friday, the organisation announced the launch of the ‘Great British Designer Face Coverings’, an initiative which will manufacture and sell reusable, washable masks with a goal of raising £1 million for NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Urgent Appeal, the BFC Foundation Fashion Fund and Wings of Hope Children’s Charity.
The face coverings will feature the designs of six British fashion brands - Halpern, Julien Macdonald, Liam Hodges, Mulberry, Raeburn and Rixo - and with such a diverse group of talents, there’s genuinely something to appeal to every taste: Halpern and Liam Hodges for lovers of vibrant colour, or Mulberry’s graphic print and Rixo’s monochrome sketch motif for more muted tastes.
"I didn't want to just put a random, old print from our archive on the mask. At the minute, everyone wants a bit of hope and unity, so I came at this having done my research on old, ancient symbols that have been used throughout history that represent unity, strength, hope, even luck," says Orlagh McCloskey, co-founder of Rixo and designer of the brand's navy-and-white face mask print.
Among the imagery she has incorporated into the print are a dove, an olive branch, a lotus blossom and the heart and hands motif that appears on Irish Claddagh rings. "I think just everyone needs a bit of love at the minute. Just a feeling of togetherness and unity. I think that's what has kept a lot of people going," she adds.
All coverings will be sustainably manufactured from GOTS certified organic cotton sateen by Bags of Ethics without any single-use plastic, and thankfully, we won’t have to pay designer prices for them either - the coverings will cost £15 for a pack of three with two protective pouches to keep them clean while not in use. And they’ll be easy to get hold of too - you can buy them now from the British Fashion Council’s website, and from retailers including Boots, Asos, John Lewis & Partners, Sainsbury’s (in the Tu clothing sections) and Argos.co.uk from 15th June.
The coverings boast two layers of fabric, a nose-strip to create a snug fit around the nose and mouth, a filter panel, adjustable ear straps and an anti-fog fit for sunglasses or glasses. Each can be machine-washed up to 50 times.
“Fashion is a unifying force and now, more than ever, it is essential that we collaborate and come together to support each other through difficult times,” says Caroline Rush, chief executive of the BFC.
“Our ambition is to contribute to the fight against COVID-19, while protecting vital PPE supplies reserved for the NHS. Through this project, we will not only celebrate British designers but also champion sustainability in a time of crisis.”
Certainly, the Great British Designer Face Coverings initiative forms part of the BFC’s efforts to help fashion businesses survive this pandemic, which has taken a grave toll on the industry.
With brick-and-mortar stores forced to close, and the cancellation of many of the summer events and holidays that give us a reason to buy new clothes around this time of year, fashion brands are reporting significant losses.
Savile Row tailor Kilgour has closed its showroom, and House of Holland has ceased trading for good since lockdown began, while Monsoon, Oasis, Warehouse, Laura Ashley, Aldo, Debenhams and Cath Kidston are all either on the brink of, or have entered into administration.
But it may be that by buying washable, reusable face coverings - either from this BFC initiative, or from independent British brands - we can give the labels we love a lift. After all, they need it now, more than ever.