BY Fast Company 5 MINUTE READ

Across the globe, wearing masks when out in public has now become a norm – and grabbing your mask before heading out the door has become just as routine as ensuring you have your wallet, keys and cellphone on you.

With most countries now implementing masks as a legal measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19, a number of local apparel companies have used this opportunity to give back to communities or keep their businesses afloat, by producing masks  in line with government-specific standards.

And while the topic of cloth masks were a cause of much debate, it’s been proven that although fabric masks cannot prevent people from catching the virus, it instead is effective in reducing the risk of the wearer spreading it to other people, which is particularly important when it comes to asymptomatic carriers.

Fortunately, this has allowed producers to get creative, and for wearers to be spoilt for choice when it comes to colours, prints, patterns and styles. In fact, facial coverings have been adapted as one of the trendiest accessories of 2020, with people co-ordinating their masks to their outfits, and donning masks from their favourite brands and designer labels.

In local circles, many small businesses as well as established brands have taken to the initiative, producing some of the most, trendy, stylish and creative masks available – all while incorporating their specialty expertise. – be it graphic design, flower farming or sustainable fashion, into the mask.

These are some of the companies making the most innovative masks we’ve had our eyes on:

Founded in 2011, Fleur Design Studio in Cape Town is a specialty print and graphic design company that produces some of the most elegant patterns for stationery, signage and corporate identity.

With the onset of Covid-19, their business was brought to an abrupt halt and the company was on the brink of laying off staff and closing their doors indefinitely. However, the predicament also brought about a new opportunity: The chance to branch into textile design – something they had been wanting to do for a while.

They took the chance to introduce a new range of products – with the same design expertise and recognisable aesthetic. The masks are made from three layers of 100% cotton, and eco-friendly dyes and materials. It has a wire over the bridge of the nose (to prevent steam build up), a polyester cord that goes around the head and a clip that keeps the cord in place. This means that every part of the mask, apart from the cord and clip, is bio-degradable and recyclable.

In addition, Fleur Design Studio utilises a Cape Town-based CMT group that offers women who have lost their jobs training and equipment. “We have a team of eight ladies who make the masks by hand. Each mask sold uplifts the lives of up to 50 people, from printing technicians and courier agents, to embroiderers and everyone in between,” says a representative of the company.

For every mask sold, Fleur Design Studio donates R10 to various organisations to help with hygiene products, food and support in communities around the country. To date, they have donated over R10 000 and are continuously on the lookout for smaller, effective organisations that need help at this time.

The studio introduces a new range of masks every two weeks, with their floral designs, based on stationery patterns done for various brides over the years, proving to be their most popular. They also have a playful abstract range, an animal range with an African wildlife aesthetic, solid-coloured masks, as well as embroidered masks with intricate patterns and texture.

This Stellenbosch-based company specialises in hand-made leather goods. From duffel bags and backpacks to wallets and other lifestyle accessories, the company is now putting their own spin on “the new normal.” Their bespoke genuine leather face masks combine form and function. There are three leather design cut-outs to choose from, available in Rose Pink and Matte Black, and each mask comes with a detachable fabric inner. The inners vary depending on the mask and availability of fabric, as the material is sourced from local suppliers in support of small businesses. Made from quality hide, the masks are not only sustainable and biodegradable but also comfortable to wear and easy to breath in – all the while providing maximum protection in an innovative new way.

Veteran millner Crystal Birch is a household name in South African fashion circles. Now, she has translated her expertise in the art of hat-making to producing PPE equipment – including, innovative and uber stylish visors with plastic shields. While Crystal Birch fabric masks are available in a range of styles and colours, it is their shield visors that have been the real show-stopper. Connected to a cap or bucket hat, the plastic visor covers the entire face and is lined with different coloured bias binding for a playful finish. While the product is not medical grade, Crystal Birch aims to contribute positively to the pandemic and envisions this type of futuristic PPE gear as “what the public would wear post-lockdown.” The visors are also available in children’s sizes.

In addition, all PPE equipment produced by the brand has been accredited by the National Bargaining Council. This means that Crystal Birch is a local manufacturer with the correct working conditions, a product that is in line with government regulations, and is made by local hands.There has never been a better time to support a proudly South African business.

Luxury clothing brand Polo has also been producing their own take on the face mask. Known for their signature polo shirts and sophisticated style, Polo aimed to create a “commuter face mask”, which would be easily washable and reusable. The masks are made from repurposed store material – a 3-ply cotton twill fabric, with the embroidered Polo horse logo a stand-out feature on the mask.

The company also collaborated with the Design Indaba to facilitate a pledge to local government to distribute 250 000 of these masks to communities in need. More than half of these masks have already been donated. The masks have also been made freely available to Polo customers in-store and online, so with every purchase, you get a free mask.

Apparel companies aren’t the only brands producing face masks. Flower farmers, Adene Flowers in the Western Cape are producing masks with their specialty cotton floral print material.

Established in 2016, Adene Flowers is dedicated to producing high quality, beautiful and long-lasting fresh-cut flowers and foliage.  They use eco-friendly growing methods and pride themselves on being environmentally conscious.

With the onset of Covid-19, they branched out into producing stylish floral masks in a range of different colours and styles. According to the brand, Cape Town-based floral designer, Paramithi Flowers created custom flatlays of the actual flowers grown on the farm. These designs were then photographed and screen-printed onto the specialty cotton material used for the masks.

Currently, there are approximately 23 designs available on the website, with the  brand now also offering ranges for men and kids.

Always on the cutting edge of innovation, denim brand G-Star has come out with a range of protective face masks to help us adapt to a new way of living, working and socialising. Made with a unique jersey material (100% organic cotton) and incorporating layers of lab-tested technology filters, the mask is reported to filter out approximately 99.6% of all particles, bacteria, viruses and pollution in the air. It also sports an anti-bacterial finishing and is washable for up to 20 times.They are available in packs of five and come in a dark navy colourway. Visit to order online.