Ox-themed masks may not be trending at the moment but Petaling Street traders in Kuala Lumpur are banking on the zodiac animal to give the idea a big push come this Chinese New Year.
Never mind that another round of the movement control order, which took effect on Jan 13, has put a damper on otherwise steady sales.
If wearing something with a cow motif on your face does not appeal to you, there are plenty of other colours and a variety of bright patterns to choose from at the many stalls there.
“Never did I imagine that I would be selling face masks alongside Chinese New Year biscuits, ” remarked Fong Ten Pau, who has been doing business here for 30 years.
The trader, who used to sell fashion accessories before the first MCO put a restriction on open-air markets last year, admitted that he would have most probably laughed it off as a ludicrous idea if he was asked to sell face masks a year ago.
But as the coronavirus continued to spread over the better part of 2020, Fong saw the need for a change in business direction.
He is still getting a feel for the market, but for now, he has opted to jump on the Chinese New Year biscuits bandwagon as well as that of face masks.
“Sales are satisfactory so far, ” said Fong prior to the government’s announcement of MCO 2.0.
Assisting him with mask sales is worker Tan Lay Chen, who said that like it or not, face masks were no longer worn just for health reasons but are a fashion accessory as well.
Some people want their masks to match their clothes.
“Frankly, making money with face masks was the furthest from my mind as I always regarded them as what you would only wear when in a hospital.
“But as face masks are now a daily essential, the market for it is there, ” said Tan.
However, he could sense that wholesalers were still cautious about importing more patterns and variety.
“One reason is that no one is entirely sure how long the mask ruling will last.
“We can only be certain of a stable market for masks if the government imposes a permanent law for everyone to wear it, regardless of whether there is a health threat or not. This will never happen, of course.
“So, for now, we are just going to meet consumer demand.
“As long as people are buying, we will sell them, ” he said.
Chris Loke, a sales assistant at Kenanga Wholesale City (KWC), a wholesale fashion mall in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, said that from personal observation, trends for coloured and patterned masks are constantly changing.
“A particular design can be popular one month and out of fashion the very next month.
“When they first came into the market, they were very popular with Malay women, who found the different colours complementary to their head scarves.
“The latest mask trend is the rainbow-hued ones, ” he added.
There was no need to overthink the issue, said Petaling Street trader Any Hiew, who hinted that doing so would be giving too much undue attention to a cheap, disposable item.
“At the price the masks are sold, one can afford to be fashion-conscious.
“After all, wearing something bright on one’s face would help to raise morale during these trying times, ” she added.
At the time of StarMetro’s visit to the tourist spot, the masks were priced at RM10 for three packs of 10 pieces each.
Although many stalls in Petaling Street will be closed because of the MCO, traders are not worried.
They are confident about being able to clear their unsold stock as soon as restrictions are lifted.
“Judging from the current situation and the number of cases, face masks may well be a compulsory item for the next two years, ” said Loke.
When contacted, Kuala Lumpur Hawkers and Petty Traders Association chairman Datuk Ang Say Tee said coloured and patterned masks started becoming popular with locals almost three months ago.
The idea took hold when foreign fashion labels introduced their versions of the essential item and people grew tired of wearing the same blue, black or white masks all the time.
“The red Chinese New Year masks with ox motifs are a Malaysian idea.
“It came from one of our association members, who got a factory to make it for him.
“If the market continues to hold for face masks come Hari Raya, they’ll be making green masks with a ketupat motif and the same will be done for Deepavali too.
“But that is if there is still a necessity for them when the time comes, ” said Ang.
Xavier Kong, who is business development manager at Durio which is a fabric and disposable mask manufacturing company in Johor Baru, said coming up with colourful and brightly patterned themes was not a challenge at all as coloured masks could be easily sourced from local suppliers.
“Where colour and pattern options are concerned, there are of course more choices from suppliers in China due to their market size there, the demand and their mature supply chain that includes printing services.
“However, Durio has decided to stick with local manufacturers to build a complete face mask supply chain in Malaysia, so that our country can achieve self-sufficiency in terms of face mask supply, ” said Kong.
He said the challenge was in producing a sharp print quality, as the first layer of the mask had to be water-resistant but at the same time, the dye used must not be toxic or contain irritants.
The safest option is cosmetic grade ink.
The company first came up with their own designs for printing last August in conjunction with National Day celebrations.
Following encouraging demand, they proceeded with new designs for Christmas and Chinese New Year.
Next in the pipeline is a special series of masks featuring characters from a well-known animation company but discussions are ongoing so nothing can be revealed yet.
For interested parties who are planning to tap into this market, Kong said excluding the time frame needed to come up with the concept and design, printing and production could be completed within three weeks once the artwork was finalised.
For customised colours and designs exclusive to the client, he said Durio’s maximum capacity per order was one million pieces.
For existing colours and designs, these are readily available from the distributor by the carton, which contains 2,500 pieces.
Due to their novel appeal, Kong reckoned that sales points could be increased beyond the professional healthcare industry to include e-commerce sellers as well as retailers such as pharmacies and supermarkets.
Lastly, on whether these fancier versions of the face covering were able to keep the wearer safe, Kong pointed out that the standard specifications for material performance in face masks was that they should be three-ply and the outer layer must be hydrophobic (water resistant) to protect from external fluids and droplets.
“A simple test to see if it fulfils the safety criteria is to wet the front of the mask.
“If water is absorbed and the inner layers become wet, this means the mask is not up to the required standard, ” Kong noted.
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