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COVID-19 Apr 20, 2020 5 min read

The increasing demand for PPE, but make it fashion

Governments and organizations around the world are calling on people to wear face coverings in public when social distancing is not possible.

PPE

As personal protective equipment (PPE) is saved for healthcare professionals, consumers are turning to apparel retailers to supply them with face masks.

We break down the trajectory of growth in retail and pop culture, who’s investing into PPE and how this gear is being communicated to consumers.

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The growth of the face mask

Whether worn as a symbol of medical protection or a fashion trend, the face mask has undoubtedly integrated its way into mainstream culture. Already a popular accessory in across much of Asia thanks to strong influences from Japanese streetwear, the face mask trend is making its way to the western world as well. While much controversy exists surrounding the effectiveness of wearing face masks, it hasn’t stopped celebrities from donning them on social media and during public outings. Enhancing the trend to put a stylish spin on the mask has been seen from sequins at bridal brand Katie May to snakeskin at AKINGS.

In the past two months, retailers are vying to stock face masks in their assortments. The first week of April saw the highest number of new in face masks since the pandemic began. Of all new face masks landing since Nov 1st, 7.3% have experienced a sellout with just 3.4% replenished as retailers struggle to stock additional products with demand so high.

Which mass retailers are getting in the game?

Boohoo & boohooMAN

boohooMAN launched its first snood hoodie on January 21st in the UK and the following day in the US, where a majority SKU sellout was recorded after just 8 and 11 days, respectively. Womenswear versions followed at boohoo in late March.

Typically products at these retailers arrive with an advertised discount, after which pricing steadily declines. However, the snood hoodie is one of few products where SKUs are selling out at a higher price than initially offered as discounts on these products decline. Demand for this type of product is undeniable. Silhouettes remain identical to the regular hoodies available in order to speed up lead times.

SHEIN

One of the few retailers that have tapped into the outerwear category – children’s, men’s and women’s options are available in multiple colorways. It’s also the only offering that sees a full face covering.

MissPap

Following suit from boohoo, the brand launched a similar snood hoodie on April 8th in a white and black colorway, the latter of which has seen a majority SKU sellout.

American Threads

The retailer’s sleeveless top in black and white options will progress well through the summer months. Described on its website as the perfect top ‘for times like these.’

Which outdoor brands are increasing its offerings?

Moosejaw

Intended for wind protection and warmth, the mask hoodie options were first launched in June 2019. No new arrivals were noted until March 18th, arriving from Salty Crew brand.

Watersports Outlet

Like Moosejaw, we note this type of jacket pick up in arrivals across March & April.

The North Face

The fleece below, which is part of the brand’s Extreme collection was then re-promoted in a newsletter featuring the model pulling the fleece over his face. It was not originally photographed in this way – a good example of adapting existing styles.

An untapped opportunity: Antibacterial fabrics

• Antibacterial finishes have seen increased arrivals in the last three months. Typically used for activewear and intimates lines, few retailers are promoting this useful finish in light of COVID-19.

• Uniqlo has been using an antibacterial finish on its Dry Ex activewear and Heattech lines since 2011, as well as for some products in its Airism collection since 2014. However, moisture-wicking and breathability are the characteristics promoted most heavily for these lines.

• Of note is Eberjey in the US, who emailed customers on March 26th, promoted its Bamboo Loungewear collection, where natural antibacterial properties are highlighted. EDITED retail data tracked 222 retailers with bamboo products, but few mention this key characteristic that bamboo offers.

• Similarly, Finisterre’s merino line, first promoted in early January, saw no mention of antibacterial properties, but it was highlighted in two separate emails in March.

How is it being promoted?

Buy one, gift one

This is most popular approach taken in email communications as several retailers enticed consumers with commitments to donate masks with each purchase. SUNDRY and Rails shifted factory production from apparel to make 100% cotton PPE products with its available fabrics. Indigo Apparel upped the ante by donating two masks for every one purchased, while Christy Dawn is selling the accessory in packs of five.

Kid-friendly

Childrenswear favorite Claire’s offered DIY steps for face masks using bandanas or face shields made of headbands. Meanwhile, Polarn O. Pyret supplied festive downloadable animal masks in celebration of Easter.

Discounts

Kinetix is giving away a free mask with any purchase, on top of 50% off your entire order. Outdoor retailer, Bealls, is promoting its protective fishing gear at 50% off right now in a show of creativity in the fight against COVID-19.

Upcycling

Denim brand NOORISM is using fabric previously used for jeans to create its face masks. Good American is another label taking this approach.

Do it yourself

Christopher Kane encouraged customers to take a DIY approach and email its art department to receive a free craft pack leveraging fabrics from past seasons.

How to guide

Luxury label Rebecca Minkoff sent out a ‘how to’ guide on turning a scarf already in your closet into a wearable face mask.

Alternative supplies

Burton Snowboard asked its customers to donate their ski/snowboard goggles to Goggles for Docs, providing pairs to healthcare workers on the front lines.

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Research and analysis by Retail Analysts Krista Corrigan and Tara Drury