The Mask Rundown
Masks can be a complicated subject.
Running masks are a newly evolving category filled with opportunity, if you can get past the challenges. Brands and retailers share their learnings in attempts to accommodate customers.
In response to COVID-19, Megan Searfoss, owner of Ridgefield Running Company, completely remodeled her stores. Cash registers and kiosks were ripped out for space to social distance. iPads were installed to conduct transactions. Consumers can purchase Buff (and other) gaiters in Searfoss’ stores, but no masks. For events like group runs, a mask is required for gathering, but not the actual run. “I’m not sure I want to be responsible to choose the correct [mask] to run in,” she comments.
Masks can be a complicated subject. The Fleet Feet franchise hopped on board early as a collective group, offering options from Zensah and SmartWool. Their website provides details about CDC recommendations on wearing masks, as well as a checklist of how to properly wear one. 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 Kay Martin, CEO of Boco Gear. An online ordering system allows retailers to order directly from Boco’s website without any minimums for in-line masks. Custom masks require low minimums (35 units) and quick turnarounds.
Boco Gear’s Performance X mask, which is made for exercise, 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 masks, Boco Gear focuses on fit, comfort, machine washability and the light weight of the masks. “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 Martin.
For Boco Gear, 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, 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.
In developing their masks, Reebok “had several calls with teams from Germany, the U.S. (East and West coasts) and our 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, which made 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% recycled polyester/7% 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.
Compression garment brand EC3D has developed a mask featuring a medical grade twist with the 3D Pro Sport Mask (offering 98.1% particle filtration efficiency and 84.4% 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 certified by the FDA 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 it’s fit,” he says.
Zensah focuses on fabric as its key to fit. The Performance Face Mask 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.
A Category with Legs
In the Motor City, running specialty retailer RUNdetroit’s Saturday group runs require wearing a mask during initial gathering. When runners spread out, they sometimes remove it or lower their gaiter as appropriate. Employees of the store wear custom Boco Gear masks and post social media pics coordinating their outfits with their masks.
Looking beyond COVID-19, “I do think this will be a category that will be around for some time,” says Justin Craig, owner of RUNdetroit. Either for personal safety (if feeling under the weather) or for harsh winters in regions like the Midwest. “I foresee the mask, or gaiter, being a pretty important part of winter running,” he says.