Happening at retail and in promo, some manufacturers are aiming to produce masks with enhanced performance features, breathability and comfort, especially as summer takes hold. Still, innovation comes with risks.
Come July, Japanese sports equipment manufacturer Yonex plans to start selling face masks that contain xylitol.
Yonex typically uses the material, which absorbs heat and wicks sweat, in the apparel it produces for the Japanese national badminton team and professional tennis players.
Since Yonex pivoted to selling face masks during the coronavirus pandemic, the company with a 74-year history felt the material could be used to create quick-drying, antimicrobial masks that enable wearers to stay cooler and more comfortable on hot days.
“As people spend more time wearing masks against the coronavirus, we hope our technology will enable users to keep cool during hot weather, even if only a little bit,” a Yonex spokeswoman said, according to The Japan Times.
While the Yonex masks are particularly available in Japan, they highlight what some feel will be a growing trend at retail and in the promotional products marketplace as mask-wearing remains increasingly common amid the continuing COVID-19 threat – namely, that manufacturers are going to innovate, trying to build more performance-enhancing features into face coverings.
“We believe that more innovation is coming in face masks for people to wear while performing work, playing sports and engaging in other activities in warm environments,” said Jeremy Lott, president of Top 40 promotional products supplier SanMar (asi/84863).
Issaquah, WA-based SanMar is already making progress in that regard, Lott said. He noted that the company’s Port Authority Stretch Performance Gaiter (G100) comes in a performance fabric. Most of the masks SanMar makes are cotton, but they’re outfitted with Sciessent’s Agion, an antimicrobial treatment that only activates when it needs to defend against microbes, Lott said.
Meanwhile, Allmade (asi/34341) has already developed a mask innovation. The apparel supplier has created the Allmask Tri-Blend Face Mask. Lightweight and breathable for the summer months and beyond, the mask is a unique blend of 50% Repreve polyester made from recycled plastic; 25% organic cotton, which is U.S.-grown without chemicals; and 25% TENCEL Modal. Each mask consists of an average of one recycled water bottle.
“This tri-blend is a great performance fabric,” Moor said. “The differentiating ingredient we use – Modal – really helps with moisture-wicking and odor.”
In part to demonstrate the mask’s comfort and performance capabilities, Moor recently wore one as part of a Memorial Day-related fitness challenge, which he documented on Instagram.
When it comes to mask innovation, manufacturers need to proceed smartly and ensure they’re complying with standards established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some promo suppliers say. “It’s a risky area,” Chris Blakeslee, president of California-based Bella+Canvas (asi/39590), said of experimenting with fabrics and treatments on masks.
Bella+Canvas is producing about 100 million masks per week now. Most are a cotton/polyester blend that Blakeslee says naturally keeps them cooler and more breathable. The company doesn’t plan to expand beyond that to different treatments and the like, Blakeslee said.
“Many of these treatments, like moisture-wicking chemicals, agents, water repellants and various bio antimicrobials have never been tested for inhalation safety,” said Blakeslee, adding that brands are doing a poor job of adhering to FDA standards regarding masks, such as that all body-contacting materials must be disclosed on the label. “Eventually,” said Blakeslee, “one of them is going to get nailed.”
Back at retail, some companies are definitely pressing forward with mask material and treatment innovations. Mizuno Corp., for instance, is making masks that feature a soft-stretch tricot material that normally would be used in the sportswear/athletic equipment maker’s swimsuits and track and field apparel. Another Japanese firm, knitwear maker Knit Waizu, is producing masks with icepacks, The Japan Times reported.
Such examples indicate that more new developments on mask fabrics and performance could be in the cards. Companies in promo, sporting goods, fashion and other industries have turned to selling personal protective equipment amid the coronavirus pandemic in order to meet rampant demand and help fulfill a public safety need.