Face masks and hand sanitizer were just the beginning. Apparel and accessories inspired by personal protective equipment could be a $10 billion to $20 billion opportunity for the ailing fashion industry.
From Lizzo on Instagram lounging poolside in a “pankini” (that’s a “pandemic bikini” — with matching masks and gloves included by the label Thick by Robyn), to eyewear giant Safilo Group rolling out face shields to Bloomingdale’s, the next big lifestyle trend could be anti-viral-leisure.
“Fashion is probably the most challenged of all industries right now, and it’s going to be put to task to create innovation to drive any kind of activity and growth,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group. “Innovation will come by catering to how we live in this new anti-viral society….So you are going to see the birth of all these other categories and industries — what’s an acceptable face shield to wear that doesn’t make you look like a welder, workout apparel and socks that will manage germs…gloves that will breathe yet repel. And wait until we get to winter — cowl-necks may come back.
“Think about when athletic melded with fashion,” he said, using ath-leisure for growth context, noting that trend took the athletic market from $4 billion to $30 billion in sales. “Now we are going to see the safety and antiviral meld into fashion,” Cohen said.
Brands are already starting to lean into protective eyewear.
Last week, Safilo’s Polaroid label unveiled a Stay Safe collection of face shields for adults and children. “We see demand,” said Vladimiro Baldin, chief licensed brand and global product officer for Safilo Group, which produced PPE for medical responders in Italy and the U.S. before deciding to roll out a consumer version. He also noted that before the pandemic, many designers were already creating protective-looking eyewear (sport-performance shield silhouettes, for example), so it is not that much of a stretch for face shields to become a fashion trend.
Los Angeles-based Bluestone Sunshields, maker of the UV-tinted privacy “paparazzi shields” that have been worn by Kim Kardashian West and V. Stiviano, among others, has also parlayed PPE for front-line health workers into a new category for consumers, launching clear face shields with a gold feather-patterned headband and gold-tone embellishment. L.A. retail veteran Ron Robinson snapped them up immediately for his web site. “They’re sleek and modern and sexy — they resemble a cool motorcycle helmet visor that flips down,” he said.
Matching masks to clothing is giving rise to other matching accessories.
“We are growing our mask-and-glove combo collection,” said Katie Sue Nicklos, chief executive officer of Wing Weft Gloves in New York City, who started selling matching mask and glove sets on her web site in late May. “Next to be released are packs of seven so you can have one for every day of the week — much like underwear packs when you were a kid.”
Other “essential” accessories? La Mask necklaces from popular eyewear necklace maker La Loop that let users keep their masks within reach at all times.
New antimicrobial fabric accessories are entering an even more welcoming marketplace. In the works for more than two years and based in Newport Beach, Calif., Lutava offers car seat covers, bike seat covers, gloves and yoga towels for the pandemic-era fitness enthusiast, made from Fitshield, a patented technical fabric that kills common gym-based bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus within two hours.
After the pandemic quarantined millions in the U.S. in March, founder Casey Chavez had the fabric retested and found it is effective against the coronavirus that causes SARS. Although there is no lab test available against the coronavirus that cases COVID-19, she said, the timing for launch of her direct-to-consumer and boutique fitness brand is still proving to be fortuitous.
“I initially was worried about breaking into the market, that I would have to spend so much to educate people about why they need these products. But as the pandemic evolved, and people became more aware of germs, it’s done a lot of the work for me.”
How the quest for safety and protection influences fashion silhouettes is another question. Will clean and spare be the pandemic future?
When designers show their next collections, front-line workers may be the new heroes of mood boards, and the craze for utility-inspired boiler suits could morph into utility-inspired Hazmat suits, proving Naomi Campbell may have been onto something with her pandemic Jet Set look.
Always ahead of the curve, airline uniform design is already at the new frontier of the antiviral age, just as it was during the Space Age Sixties. Emirates, Thai Airways and Air Philippines are among those that have unveiled PPE-inspired flight cabin crew uniforms.
Filipino-American designer Puey Quinoñes’ new uniforms for Air Asia are designed to look more fashionable than scary. “I was inspired by a Ferrari,” he said of the red and white suits with hoods and visors.
The aesthetic exercise stuck with Quinoñes, who typically designs feminine bridal and eveningwear. On June 5, alongside his summer 2020 collection, he will be launching a Fashion for Protection collection with PPE-inspired jumpsuits available on his e-commerce site. “A lot of my clients were asking if we could come up with protective wear, something they could wear to the grocery store that doesn’t look too medical,” he added.
L.A.-based Production Club, an events company that’s been hit hard by the pandemic, has prototyped a Micrashell suit. Designed for people to gather and party safely, it includes a respirator with beverage and vape supply systems, speakers, smartphone integration and a Daft Punk-looking helmet with camera and voice communicator.
“There’s no way to avoid people going out and partying, so we thought we would come up with the idea for this suit,” said creative director Miguel Risueño, noting some of the fashion references included Ambush Design and Yohji Yamamoto. Risueño and his team are pushing to make 100 units by the end of the year, and find a partner to bring the concept to market, ideally an entertainment or event producer, like AEG, that could adapt the suits for use at concerts and festivals.
He’s also hoping to inspire other designers to jump in with their own ideas of how to keep people safe and stylish in the time of COVID-19. “I do think there will be a harmony between protective gear and fashion. If you fast-forward 300 years, there’s going to be people partying on the moon or Mars.”
Or even sooner, if Elon Musk’s SpaceX has its way.