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Virus and bushfires: Could medical masks become the next streetwear trend?


2020 has gotten off to almost an apocalyptic start. First, the Australian bushfires have drastically lowered air quality in the country resulting in a demand for anti-pollution masks. In January, the Wuhan coronavirus has caused a surge in searches for medical masks on Google and several Vancouver pharmacies are selling out of masks as reported by Canadian Global News. In the 2019 “State of the Air” analysis published by The American Lung Association, it’s estimated that 133.9 million people in the United States are exposed to unhealthy air.

The retail crisis looks set to continue in the new decade as estimates of store closures and lost jobs will increase in comparison to 2019.The Centre for Retail Research predicts 171,669 job losses in 2020 (an increase of 19.8 percent) and 17,565 store closures (an increase of 9.3 percent).The Centre for Retail Research has been analysing, evaluating and forecasting retail trends for more than 21 years and on Monday released its latest report called Retailing in Crisis 2019-2020. The findings highlight the issues facing retailers in the digital age, caused by a weakening consumer demand, high business rates and operational costs and the growth of online retailing.

Throughout 2019, news of retailers entering administration, store closures, re-structuring companies and businesses going insolvent were weekly, if not daily, headlines. Many well-known high street brands, once the backbone of the UK’s towns and cities, went into administration, think Debenhams, Mothercare, Bonmarché, Select, Karen Millen and Coast.

With the unfortunate consequences of climate change and global health epidemics that’s become a stark reality, one medical supply company has teamed up with a Berlin fashion label to reinterpret surgical masks as the next streetwear trend.

Since the coronavirus rages, much of the International Fashion Fair has heard bad news. But even in such a disturbing period of time, there are still people in the fashion industry who have fun when thinking about fashion. This may also be the beauty of designers.

#Damur x CSD

#Damur, a Berlin-based high-end streetwear label showed their AW20/21 collection at Berlin Fashion Week on January 16 at the soon to close club, Griessmuehle. The designer collaborated with CSD, a 73 years old medical supply company from Taiwan on a global mission to reinterpret the surgical mask in to a fashion accessory. Two special masks were used as VIP tickets and worn by models on the runway. The medical masks were adorned with renditions of the Brother's Kiss and graffiti culture that Berlin is known for.

Shih-Shun Huang, #Damur’s founder and designer says, “We want to be the first fashion show in the world to put (medical) masks on the runway, and to use them in art installations and graffiti. CSD's method of breaking the original label of the surgical mask is very similar to that of #Damur. Many of our designs are not only fashion creations, but also hope to present a dialogue with social labels, encouraging people to think and breakthrough existing frameworks.”

CSD’s COO, Jonathan Chang added, “#Damur is not only a clothing brand, but more importantly, every design tries to break stereotypes in society and even attempts to redefine these labels. This is a value that CSD admires and can benefit from. In the future, I hope to collaborate with Damur at other international fashion weeks, such as New York and London. Fashion week is an optimal time to showcase our products and Berlin as a diverse international hub can be a good entry point into the European market.”

Medical masks in Western subculture and streetwear

Already part of everyday wear in Asia and even becoming a fashion statement, surgical masks are still viewed as a novelty in the West; however, they have been making an appearance in Western subculture and streetwear. American rappers such as Ayo and Teo, 2 Chainz and Travis Scott have long incorporated masks to perform onstage while Virgil Abloh’s Off-White Diagonal Camouflage Mask retails for 68 US dollars. Atlanta-based stylist, Zoe Dupree was quoted in Billboard Magazine, "This is a new part of costuming, and you’ll see people doing new things with it. This is a trend that’s going to stay."

Most recently as K-pop cross overed into the mainstream worldwide, the record-breaking boy band, BTS, often don facemasks as part of their off-duty attire; streetwear-inspired medical masks are even beginning to grace Amsterdam’s notable concert venues such as Melkweg during K-pop parties.


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