The new, pandemic-induced reality has necessitated a radical shift in how we carry out our routine activities and demanding a new sense of responsibility from everyone. Wearing a mask is one of the most important of them.
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As a category, masks have exploded from meant for medical use alone into an essential and lifeguarding item for every person.
The crisis has created a massive demand for masks in the market, and has become a part of people's daily needs.
With government regulations making masks mandatory for anyone stepping out of their homes, marketers see a massive opportunity in the sale of face masks and something that could become a fashion statement in the future.
Luxury, premium clothing and non-clothing brands have ventured into the face mask category. Bestseller Clothing, a mother brand of J&J, Vero Moda and Only have entered the category with designer and basic masks.
Did we ever imagine alco-bev brands would make their way into clothing? Well, AB Inbev and Bira launched their varieties of masks only last month.
Home-grown designer brands such as Anita Dongre, Nitya Bajaj, Shivan and Narresh, Masaba and Manish Tripathi are experimenting by incorporating their own signature styles into masks.
In April, Louis Vuitton converted five of its French workshops to make masks for frontline health workers.
"We wanted to ensure our consumers have varied options when choosing a mask for their needs while staying true to their personal aesthetic. Masks are not just another accessory in vogue right now, it is undeniably essential in the current times, not just for the well-being of the wearer but also those around," said Alexander Lambrecht, VP Marketing, South Asia, AB InBev.
Recognising the current need amid the challenges wrought by the pandemic, Budweiser Streetwear Co., in partnership with Myntra, launched its range of face masks for consumers.
Pragya Upadhyay, VP-Growth at Peesafe, said brands are foraying into the mask category to keep themselves afloat. This is an opportunity for non-textile brands to retain their presence, and it is not a full business model for them.
"We have been in the mask category much before the pandemic. Our first mask was launched in October 2019, and we were promoting it more as anti-pollution masks, said Upadhyay. The brand expanded the category to microfibre, washable masks and many others.
Marketers see designs in various kinds of masks becoming a trend. Function blended with fashion will soon be the new catch.
"We are continually working on new styles of facemasks,” says Akhil Jain, Executive Director at Madame.
Speaking on the growth of the mask category, Krsnaa Mehta, Founder and Executive Director at India Circus, a Godrej Venture, said, "The growth will be steady with different kinds of masks in the offering every day. This will only be a tiny percentage of our sales."
Mehta said that children’s masks are an essential segment to the brand. The brand expects sales to double every month with new designs and category launches. We've sold several thousands of them across India, through our online channels as well as our offline partners, Mehta said.
For textile and apparel brands, the product extension is seamless as the source of the raw material and production facilities are known and available, says Rahul Agarwal, Director at Donear Industries.
Non-clothing brands have assessed the immense potential of this market and the current surge in demand. With low capital expenditure, and maintaining economies of scale, masks can be produced and sold, gaining a fair margin, shared Agarwal.
"Since masks are an extension of our current product line, it will add value to our mainline sale for fabrics and apparel," said Agarwal.
It's a small but money-making opportunity for the non-clothing brand like us to enter into this category. Not only monetary part wise but small money-making ideas are giving a mental boost to start-ups or entrepreneurs like us to hang in there, said Krishna Tamalia Vora Founder, Mom's Therapy.
Different sub-categories are showing different rates of growth. As per initial studies and surveys, the demand for surgical masks has soared, as has the cotton masks – each one at an average of 30% growth. The cotton mask market alone is estimated at about Rs 95 million in India.
Due to a complete mindset change in consumer purchases, this 'new normal' of basing protection and safety first is bound to continue for some time. Consumers are going to demand masks with practical benefits that can be washed and reused.
Agarwal anticipates the market will grow slowly but steadily by 10-15% over the next two years as people become increasingly cautious.
The overall mask market in India will have exponential growth in the next two years. It's a new and growing market, Upadhyay said.
The mask segment under the 'Raho safe' brand of Peesafe will individually add 20-25% growth.
Peesafe will promote its masks sales through digital. The brand is seeing good numbers from our marketplaces.
"Our product development and supply chain team have been working round the clock all throughout because we wanted to ensure that we have the product when it is required by the masses," said Upadhyay.
Budweiser adopted a digital-first approach with the launch of Budweiser Streetwear Co., introduced the collection on Myntra, and subsequently driven end-to-end communication around the brand on digital. The protocols incorporated by Myntra ensure the pieces reach consumers in an extremely safe and secure way.
"We had initially planned to launch the collection in the first quarter. However, as the pandemic unfolded, we redirected all our efforts to ensure the safety of our people, partners and communities. As we gradually progress to a new normal phase, we will explore other avenues to better serve and reach our consumers," said Lambrecht.
Madame will launch a co-ordinated set of casual tees and facemasks as a part of staying home clothing. The brand has been promoting its facemask capsule collection on Instagram and Facebook.
Peesafe's focus is on tier II markets for the products under Raho Safe.
Staying abreast of competition
Marketers said they are keeping track of insights on consumer behaviour where the demand has always been on the lines of function, comfort and fashion.
From handloom cotton masks, Raisin has diversified its production into introducing a wide variety of masks of different material, prints and colours, says Vikash Pacheriwal, Co-Founder at Raisin.
Upadhyay said quality will have a significant role to play, and innovation in masks will be necessary. "There should be more and more awareness from the brand on the masks and brands need to be a product facilitator rather than only talking on the sales perspective."
"We feel if facemasks would be pocket friendly and will be of good quality, then consumers won't spare a chance of not purchasing them. Facemask is a necessity that would continue to stay in the market even if the pandemic gets over," said Jain.
Agarwal of Donear said the brand invested in R and D to produce the best for customers. "These days, especially under these circumstances, customers are more aware of the choices they make and are looking for quality and assurance from brands on their purchase."
Why go for branded masks when local is cheap and useful?
Branded pieces come with commitments, which is why consumers have always been drawn towards them.
"Even though the shift in the global economy led to a change in consumer behaviour, it is safe to say that it has only evolved and not changed,” says Mehta.
Mehta said local and home-made masks may be the first go-to at the moment because of consumers looking forward to convenience and this is what a brand will have to bridge by raising its economic reach and by still continuing to stay on its commitment path.
Consumers are increasingly aware of the advantages of buying from brands they trust – in terms of quality, durability and product promise. “What we offer is a unique solution of top-quality, great innovation and an imperative for everyone during this pandemic,” said Agarwal.