SEOUL — In South Korea and other countries, face masks play a vital role in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Face masks, which cost around 900 won (74 cents) before the crisis, now cost 1,500 won if purchased at pharmacies under the government’s rationing policy. If not, they can cost up to 4,000 won a piece.
Though there are complaints that even the rationed masks are expensive, there are also those who are willing to spend more on a face mask.
The term “coronavirus couture” has recently been trending around the world, and Korea is no exception. People wearing patterned masks have been spotted on subways and buses, as well as on the streets of hip neighborhoods in Seoul.
“For me, face masks were a fashion item even before COVID-19. It is a way of expressing myself,” said Seo Han-hun, an office worker in his late 20s in Seoul. Seo has been an avid mask wearer since his college years.
“With COVID-19, I now have to wear it all the time. So, I am exploring more options,” he said.
Catering to the needs of consumers like Seo are brands like Le Maska. Launched by former fashion model Lee Sarah in 2017, Le Maska is a leading fashion mask brand here, available at department stores and other retail outlets.
The brand features around 50 designs that include vivid colors, tartan patterns and more, promoting masks as the “new facewear.”
Though the masks were originally launched to provide protection against fine dust, sales are soaring amid the coronavirus crisis. According to the brand, its sales increased by 900 percent in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period last year. Priced 13,000 won to 23,000 won, the masks are washable and come with replaceable filters.
Another brand, BreaTheSuit, launched in January, features fashion masks designed by Kim Seo-ryong. Kim, who leads the menswear brand, is a celebrated men’s suit designer.
BreaTheSuit bills its masks as luxury fashion items that go with tailored suits. The washable masks with replaceable filters, ranging from patterned to monochrome, are available at local department stores. The masks are priced at 69,000 won.
According to the brand, overseas inquiries have been increasing. However, as the government has placed restrictions on the export of face masks, sales are strictly for the domestic market.
Though neither Le Maska nor BreaTheSuit launched its masks specifically to protect against COVID-19, there are now fashion designers newly approaching the market as mask purveyors.
Greedilous, a casual womenswear brand led by designer Park Youn-hee, manufactured its own line of fashion masks in March. Park designed the prints herself in line with the brand’s 2020 fall-winter concept.
“After the Seoul Collection was canceled, I just sewed a mask with leftover fabrics,” Park wrote on the Greedilous Instagram account on March 19.
Featuring the iconic Greedilous print, each mask is priced at 59,000 won. Some of the proceeds from sales of the masks will be donated to charity. Despite the relatively high price, the masks are currently the brand’s bestseller, with sales reaching 30 million won.