Myanmar & COVID-19

Local Designers’ Cloth Masks Spark New Fashion Trend in Myanmar

By Lwin Mar Htun 5 June 2020

In recent weeks, stylish customized cloth masks produced by Myanmar fashion brands from local fabric bearing the wearer’s name have become a new fashion trend among celebrities and young people.

Last month, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi hosted an online homemade cloth mask-making contest. Since then, many people have started making their own homemade cloth masks, and online shopping sites, including many offering their own locally made brands, have started selling cloth masks sporting all kinds of designs.

“We started selling our cloth masks in mid-May after the government announced that businesses could reopen. So, I called my staff back to my work place and am letting them stay there for their safety, and we’ve started producing fashionable cloth masks,” said Ma Pyone Thet Thet Kyaw, founder of Virya Myanmar, a social business specializing in boutique women’s fashion.

A cloth mask designed locally and made from organic cotton by Virya Myanmar / Virya Myanmar Facebook

In fact, Virya Myanmar has been selling cloth masks since March, before the first COVID-19 cases were reported in the city.

During that time, she researched cloth masks on the internet and started producing safe, fashionable cloth masks using organic cotton in collaboration with SoneTu, a social organization that specializes in Chin weaving, as well as lotus cotton fabric.

“Our masks are not medical grade, but we try to provide safer and more sustainable masks for our customers. We use organic cotton for the inner layer, with nonwoven fabric in the middle to prevent exposing the wearer and others to tiny particles. The outside layer is the fashionable part,” she said.

The cheaper masks range from 2,000 to 5,000 kyats (US$1.40-$3.60), while the higher-end masks fetch 15,000 to 35,000 kyats each, depending on the quality of the fabric and the intricacy of the design. Virya Myanmar’s latest line, the Lotus Collection, is more expensive, starting at 30,000 kyats.

Stylish cloth masks by Virya Myanmar / Virya Myanmar Facebook

“Lotus fabric is more breathable… When you have the lotus cotton fabric as the inside layer, you are breathing in the pleasant organic smell of lotus, which is good for long-term health, but lotus threads are expensive. That’s why mask-making with lotus is expensive, but customers still want them,” she said.

Though the masks are expensive, Virya Myanmar has a loyal clientele who seek high-quality products. Her customers are mostly wealthier locals and foreigners.

She added, “We only use local products except for the nonwoven layer and the elastic bands. This is a hard time for all businesses. So, our working partners earn money when we place orders [with them].”

Ma Pyone Thet Thet Kyaw sources most the organic cotton and lotus fabric from Inle [in Shan State] and Rakhine State.

Local singer Ni Ni Khin Zaw wears a matching cloth mask and face shield designed by Myanmar brand Zoey. / Zoey Facebook Page.

Reflecting its role as a social business, Virya Myanmar came up with its “A Mask for a Mask” campaign. For every mask purchased, Virya Myanmar donates a mask to those who need one. The donated masks are three-layered cloth masks made from high-quality cotton.

Cloth masks sold by another well-known local fashion designer, Ma Pont, under her Zoey brand have also become popular among actresses and models as seen on social media.

“Zoey masks have four layers, with linen fabric used for the inner layer so users feels comfortable while wearing them. The masks are designed, cut and sewn to fit the face. For safety, we sew the masks in line with the guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health and Sports,” Ma Pont said.

She started selling cloth masks in mid-May. Prior to that she made masks to donate to different organizations including Clean Yangon and to ordinary people who can’t afford to buy surgical masks.

A matching cloth mask and face shield designed and produced by Zoey. / Zoey Facebook Page

The brand has also designed stylish full-face shields with the Zoey logo that can be color-matched with masks worn underneath.

For the face shields, “We use linen fabric for the part that touches the forehead so that it feels soft. We also use clear, waterproof [plastic] film [for the shield],” Ma Pont explained.

A unique feature of Zoey’s masks is that they are designed not to put too much strain on the ears when worn all day.

The masks are priced at 3,000 kyats and the face shields at 7,500 kyats. Customer can ask to have their name sewn onto the mask, and choose a design, for an extra charge.

With many local brands selling cloth masks in various designs, the price of surgical masks has dropped from 400-500 kyats to 150-200 kyats.

Both designers reminded wearers that while it’s great to turn masks into a fashion accessory, it’s important to remember that their main function is to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They urged wearers to wash their masks every day, while practicing regular handwashing, and to stay safe.

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