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Fashion Companies Are Improving Covid-19 Mask Design

Fashion Companies Are Improving Covid-19 Mask Design

As fashion companies respond to Covid-19 by making masks, their efforts may contribute to an overdue revolution in mask design.
The novel coronavirus pandemic crashed the world of fashion the way it crashed the rest of the economy, but fashion labels are fighting back by creating masks | https://www.synzenbe.com/blog/major-fashion-labels-join-fight-against-covid-19-997/997 | to help slow the spread of Covid-19.
However, this remobilization of the efforts of the fashion industry | https://www.synzenbe.com/blog/race-to-remobilize-covid-19-and-the-fight-to-produce-protective-equipment-995/995 | has drawn attention to shortcomings in the designs of conventional masks.
In fact, even before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, doctors were criticizing surgical masks for being of poor fit | https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4868614/ |. In a 2016 article for the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), frankly titled “The surgical mask is a bad fit for risk reduction,” MD and PhD candidate Shane Neilson explains that surgical masks do not in fact prevent infection – and yet, people think that they do.
According to medical equipment designer Dan Formosa, the problem with so many of the masks worn in hospitals is that they are poorly designed | https://www.fastcompany.com/90483762/why-masks-arent-better-at-protecting-us-from-viruses |. Specifically, standard surgical masks are designed to reduce the transmission of bacteria, which are unicellular microorganisms about 1,000 nanometers (nm) in diameter.
This is a problem when it comes to viruses like the novel coronavirus, which is about 125 nm in diameter.
In Dan Formosa’s words:
“It’s a grape compared to a grapefruit. A surgical mask whose purpose is to block bacteria will do little to prevent passage of the smaller coronavirus particle.”
The N95 mask, so named because it blocks 95% of all airborne particles, are the gold standard for masks to be worn by healthcare workers treating Covid-19 patients.
However, these masks are undersupplied at many hospitals because they are more expensive. Even when they are available, healthcare workers don’t like to wear them because they impede breathing.
This points to a key flaw in their design: even N95 masks do not seem to be designed for the real, actual human face. Like other, cheaper masks, they tend to pucker at the cheeks, creating gaps, and both talking and yawning can make them creep down from the nose.
As Formosa explains: “Biomechanically, face movement and mask movement don’t align—the jaw’s pivot point is near the ear, while the mask flexes near the mouth.”
This is the problem, but many fashion companies are working on solutions to bad mask design | https://www.fastcompany.com/90486729/masks-have-a-notoriously-bad-design-so-these-companies-are-trying-to-develop-a-better-one |.
Boston-based Ministry of Supply | https://www.ministryofsupply.com/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw4dr0BRCxARIsAKUNjWQPgnEgGVXOdOcxTN1x3Cc5LffAeM__A1IrkI2C-ypqa9jTBhSZngkaAgi3EALw_wcB | bills itself as a maker of “scientifically better” clothing: more breathable, more ready-to-wear, more optimally high-performance.
Like many other fashion label heads, Ministry of Supply cofounder and president Gihan Amarasiriwardena has started making masks to help combat Covid-19. However, he and his team are trying to go one step farther, or perhaps two: they are trying to optimize masks in terms of fit and filtration.
Working in partnership with doctors, MIT design experts, and MakerHealth, a network that advocates for prototyping of medical devices, Amarasiriwardena and Ministry of Supply have been solving both problems.
The first thing they did was to separate the two problems. What they realized was that if they could design the mask and the filter as two separate pieces, they could optimize each piece and then make them work together.
By designing a mask without a built-in filter, Ministry of Supply was able to choose a material that prioritized fit over filtration, namely viscose. To create the masks they are using a Shima Seiki 3D printer, usually used for knitting materials like wool into sweaters. The result: a mask that better maps onto the complex topography of the face, and has enough stretchiness to adapt to the wearer’s mouth and nose.
The mask also has a pocket to receive the filter, which slides in to complete the unit. The company already uses a non-woven material to make its clothing, and this has the advantage for mask design of being able to filter out particles when compressed.
Another company contributing to the mask design revolution is OESH Shoes | https://oeshshoes.com/ |. Founder Casey Kerrigan used to be a doctor, but she quit to launch a shoe company and ended up 3D-printing her shoes with a flexible elastomer material.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, many other designers designed prototypes for 3D-printed masks based on the use of hard plastic. Kerrigan knew better: she realized that a soft elastomer mask would better adapt to the human face.
Kerrigan’s mask has two circular vents, equipped with removable caps, that allow the user to insert circular air filters. She recommends commercially-available filters, such as the MERV-13 typically used for air conditioners – available at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Even HEPA vacuum bags can do the trick.
The new OESH masks are washable, but the filter materials should be removed first. They’re also completely recyclable.
But even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is still a need for masks that are less-than-optimal for use in a ward with Covid-19 patients. In fact, curiously, there is in some respects more of a need for such masks, because they can be used with lower-risk patients and allow healthcare personnel to use higher-end masks only for patients who are known or suspected to have Covid-19.
The fashion label Rothy’s is working to fill this niche with a 3D-printed mask that offers the wearer a good fit but no filtration system.
The masks are made with a 3D-knitting machine, and the fibers are sourced from recycled water bottles. Rothy’s is located in China, and designed the masks based on the recommendation of their workers, who wanted masks but could not get them.
Simply put, this mask is perfect for making sure that the wearer does not sneeze or exhale droplets into the atmosphere that could potentially result in other people being infected. It offers no real protection against the coronavirus for the wearer, but it does offer protection for other people from the wearer.
Even if the wearer is infected with the novel coronavirus or possibly infected, it is unlikely that they will spread the disease while wearing one of Rothy’s new masks. Best of all, this mask helps to free up the N95 masks and the other masks with high-grade filters for where they are most needed.

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