Despite the Material Challenges, Run Businesses Make Strides Selling Masks
As a newly evolving category in the run marketplace, face masks are still finding their footing. Some businesses in the running market, for example, see mask sales as an opportunity, while other businesses, even though supporting the wearing of masks, balk at the responsibility of choosing the correct mask to run in. It’s complicated. Sourcing fabric can be tricky and time consuming. So too staying up to date on anti-viral textile claims. And at this point in mask development there’s no one material that defines the market as brands are offering up a variety of woven and knit options. Learning as they go, about function and fit, run company execs wonder if mask sales will have legs beyond COVID-19. “I do think this will be a category that will be around for some time,” says Justin Craig, owner of retail shop RUNdetroit. Either for personal safety (if feeling under the weather) or for harsh winters in regions like the Midwest, he says he foresees “the mask, or gaiter, being a pretty important part of winter running.”
Here’s how a few brands are handling the mask rundown:
Boco Gear Performance X Mask
Made for exercise, the Performance X Mask by Boco Gear uses a proprietary woven face fabric with a performance knit as the inside layer. The materials are from the firm’s existing product line. In marketing the product, Boco Gear focuses on fit, comfort, machine washable and lightweight. “We are careful about any anti-viral claims because our feeling is that we do not want to lead anyone to believe anti-viral means anti-COVID,” notes Kay Martin, CEO of Boco Gear.
For the brand, coming early to a “category that didn’t exist eight months ago, we feel like we received a PHD in less than a month’s time,” Martin explains. Initially, Boco Gear’s masks were developed in a matter of days between the factory in China and the technical sewer in the states, but the firm had problems getting the masks out of China and needed special certifications for each box. Freight carrier limitations and weight thresholds caused havoc. Boxes of masks got lost in Japan, Memphis, TN and four just plain disappeared into thin air.
Boco Gear has created custom store-branded masks for Fleet Feet, as well as other specialty stores. “The stores we work with are doing a great job educating runners on the importance of using masks or some form of face covering while exercising inside or out on the trails,” notes Martin.
Reebok Recycled Polyester Mask
In developing its masks, Reebok had several calls with teams from Germany, the U.S. (East and West coasts) and its supplier in China, according to Louise Budd, Reebok’s global senior director of apparel development. Ultimately the company partnered with an apparel supplier who quickly transitioned to make both the fabric and finished face covering, making manufacturing more seamless. Several months in, Budd is again exploring new fabric, finishes and technologies for future mask launches. Reebok’s current face covers are 93 percent recycled polyester and 7 percent elastane for a tight, covered fit and stretch around the ears. Each features spacer fabric and an internal open-ended lining designed to allow for an additional removable layer, such as a non-woven filter fabric, to increase effectiveness, if required.
EC3D 3D Pro Sport Mask
Compression garment brand EC3D has developed a product with medical grade twist with its 3D Pro Sport Mask (offering 98.1 percent particle filtration efficiency and 84.4 percent Bacterial Filtration Efficiency) utilizing its own circular knitting capabilities and detailed design for almost zero waste. “We have helped athletes understand that not all masks are created equal and many ‘sport’ options are not providing the protection they need,” says EC3D founder Danny Ayoub.
EC3D masks are FDA certified as a Class 1 medical device. A unique elastic harness keeps the mask in place, while copper fibers fight bacteria. The exec further explains that a density weaving zone provides “dimension over the nose and mouth to keep the mask from ‘sucking’ into the nose and mouth, making breathing easier.” While being protected is the first goal, “a mask is only as good as its fit,” he says.
Zensah Performance Face Mask
Fabric is the key to the fit of Zensah’s Performance Face Mask. It has the ability to stretch (with antibacterial polyamide infused with silver microparticles, polypropylene for moisture wicking and elastane) and features over-the-head and neck straps (as opposed to ear loops) to avoid ear pain. Consumers “can easily pull the mask up if running close to someone and cannot remain socially distant, and pull it back down when it’s safe to do so,” notes Zensah founder Ze’ev Feig. A mask with this sort of versatility is ideal in urban and other populated areas, such as parks or trails.