‘Attractive face masks you'd like to be seen in on the street,’ ran the headline on the Bright website recently above a top ten (in Dutch) of cool cover-ups for the lower face. One of them, reports Bright, comes from Eindhoven - from the stable of Fashion Tech Farm to be exact, located in Strijp, which for most of the past year has been providing premises to companies involved in fashion technology. Two of these, by-wire.net and LABELEDBY., joined forces to form The Fashion Filter, which says its aim is to make ‘the wearing of face masks socially acceptable in difficult times like these’.
Marina Toeters of by-wire.net has known founders Fabienne van der Weiden and Jessica Joosse of LABELEDBY. for a good many years; she was their coach during their training in Industrial Design at TU/e. Today Toeters's main occupation at the department is industry liaison. She forms the bridge between ID students and the wider world, and helps them in various ways, such as by finding suitable internships in industry.
Since mid-March the three fashion makers have been devoting all their energies to the design and production of a single item: the face mask. Toeters was able to bring a fair amount of knowledge and experience to the table, having worked for a client in this same market a couple of years ago.
Nonetheless, at the outset they were hesitant and shared a sense of doubt, she explains. “The three of us had already discussed the matter on a couple of occasions: ‘shouldn't we be doing something in this area? I've got a bunch of stuff we could use…’. At the same time, we were keen not to become profiteers in an awful situation that we are all in together.” Until, as Toeters reports, she started to see more and more initiatives, “all kinds of do-it-yourself projects, handmade cotton face masks, you name it. That was when I thought, ‘Here's me not using my knowledge while all this stuff is being marketed. That just makes no sense.’”
Read on below the photos.
The threesome developed a prototype and set up a web store. Then, on March 20 The Fashion Filter made its public appearance. “Five minutes later the first orders were coming in,” says Toeters. ‘Floral Popping Pink Blue’ (a print by artist Loes van Reijmersdal), ‘Pied de Poule’ (designed by TU/e professor Loe Feijs) and ‘Gradient Dark Green’ are just a few of their 'fashion filters' that are available to order. Anyone with time on their hands and a modicum of craft skill can also turn their hand to making a mask using the company's do-it-yourself kits and accompanying instructions.
Take note: the appealing trendy exterior hides what Toeters describes as a pretty complex product and underlying production process, one that draws on techniques such as laser cutting and 3D printing. Just consider the product's two layers: beneath the water-repellant top layer (advice: wash at 60 degrees at least once a day) lies a disposable three-layer filter (refills are also available, readymade or DIY).
In its online disclaimer The Fashion Filter points out, it must be said, that the face masks they offer are not medically approved, nor do the makers give any guarantee of their protective quality. Toeters says she cannot go into too much detail about how the masks have been tested, except to say that TNO has played a role. “On our website, moreover, we provide plenty of information about the materials we use. Enough for people who know about this stuff to grasp how good our masks are.”
And that, as Toeters describes, “is just a fraction less good than the masks being used in the medical sector. Which, I think, is both a blessing and a failure. Of course, we would have liked to have aimed even higher in terms of the protective value of our masks, but then we would have been obliged to offer up our knowledge and materials to the medical world. The way things are, we aren't holding onto any materials needed by the medical sector. We really are focusing on the consumer market.”
She stresses that the now familiar advice (one meter fifty distance, stay at home as much as you can, and so on) is still sacrosanct, “and it applies equally well to people wearing our masks. But wearing a mask does serve as a constant reminder.”
Moreover, as Toeters is keen to point out, the face masks are being continually modified and further improved - partly in response to their own experience of wearing them. Laughing, she says, “When we initially wore them outdoors, people often looked at us like we were crazy. Now you see more and more face masks on the streets; these days every fourth or fifth passerby here is wearing a face mask and increasingly we are being asked 'where did you get that cool mask'. More and more Dutch people are starting to wear them too, and we are seeing that reflected in our sales figures.”
One hundred and thirty face masks a day
The online pop-up store has now been live for just under six weeks and the three founders are producing over a hundred face masks a day, to order. “We've now outsourced the production of the inner part, which has enabled us to upscale from eighty to a maximum of one hundred and thirty face masks a day. And indeed, we are now selling close to our upper production limit.”
Read on below the photo.
The Fashion Filter has the support of the Wearable Senses Lab at Industrial Design and the companies EE Labels and Vlisco. Together with Toeters’s company by-wire.net, these parties are working on a feasibility study for the Fabric4Masks projects, which aims to develop new types of washable and therefore reusable face masks and hair nets. In Eindhoven there are plans to set up, preferably as soon as possible, a network for the distributed production of these new anti-virus masks, which will involve local parties joining forces to enable flexible and rapid production - especially in times of crisis.
Assistant Professor Kristina Andersen describes the project as “an iterative process in an rapidly evolving situation”, referring to the social crisis now faced by the Netherlands and the world as a whole, with all the changing circumstances, measures and restrictions this involves. “We are working really hard, in the hope that we can deliver valuable protective equipment as quickly as possible, especially given the current shortage.”
How long the women at The Fashion Filter will maintain the fashion focus they have so recently embraced is, says Toeters, hard to say. “It is difficult to create a strategy for this. When we started out, we were one of the first in this field, but now we are being overtaken right, left and center by other companies and big-name brands. It's fascinating, and we can only welcome this development - even if only because it means more and more good masks are coming onto the market, alongside all the junk.”
For themselves, this Eindhoven-based team wants very much “to show the role fashion can play during a turnabout in society, and the value local production can have.” And they want to emphasize the importance of personal protection: “The reason we are barely doing this even now is a matter of esthetics; people simply find face masks very ugly and strange. As makers of fashion, we hope to help bring about a sea change and to help make face masks cool.” And, as Toeters sees it, this is valuable not only in times of a pandemic. “Even if all you have is a regular cold, it's good to wear a mask, to protect others. And, evidently, our masks are also helpful against hay fever, so we've heard from users.”
But, as the designer stresses at the end of our interview, “Of course, more than anything, I hope that this whole corona crisis is over very quickly.” She also voices the hope that people become more aware of their behavior, both among themselves, in a social sense, and towards the planet. The traditional three kisses [the Dutch give] as a greeting or farewell, the tens of thousands who pack into festival grounds, the “traveling back and forth across the world - this crisis has brought us up short and is giving us a moment to reassess.”