Masks ***ARE*** a Fashion Item! In Asia.

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers will recall that I’ve been muttering for some time that masks (and respirators) should become fashion items. Recently:

The way we live now, in a world where the danger of airborne diseases is known to be real, “personal risk assessment” is the norm, and yet the data to make such assessments is missing or polluted, the realist will conclude that breathing has, in itself, become dangerous, and apply the precautionary principle in daily life. I personally advocate a strategy of layered protection, in which masks — filtering shared air as they do — play an important part. Not all people, of course, are realists, but there are many who take share my views. Enough, in fact, to form a large market. In this post, I will argue that the way to reach this market is to transform masking into a social norm, as it is in Asia (which, in general, did far better saving lives during the Covid pandemic than did the West). Masking can become a social norm if masks become fashion items, but that can only happen if the mask industry adopts some standards[1].

Sadly, we’re still falling short on the standards front. But I do think the idea of masks as fashion items is coming up on the zeitgeist charts, even in backward countries like our own. This tweet, for example, continues to garner quotes:

Imagine my joyful surprise at finding a company that has fashionable masks as its business model! You may also imagine my embarassment at not having served you, dear readers, by discovering the company earlier. First, I’ll look at the company (MaskLabs). Then, I’ll eat a bit of crow on why I didn’t write this post earlier.

Here is the tweet that sparked this post:

Holy moley! A bricks and mortar mask store! With people browsing colorful displays of masks! In Korea! (Here on the periphery, people ask, tentatively, if it’s possible to get a black mask (presumably because black “wipes out everything else around”)). I did check Google maps to make sure the store still existed:

Here is the interior, showing the displays:

(The jewelry tie-in is clever.) From MaskLab’s South Korean “offline store”:

마스크랩은 다양한 분야의 패션 디자이너, 예술계 Artist 및 Illustrator들과

콜레보레이션을 진행하며 각 분야의 뛰어난 예술가들의 창작성을

마스크를 통해 많은 사람들에게 전달하고 국내외 Artist들에게

또 하나의 메세지를 전달 하는 플렛폼을 제공합니다

Mask Lab works with fashion designers, art artists and illustrators in various fields.

Through collaboration, the creativity of outstanding artists in each field

Delivered to many people through masks and to domestic and foreign artists

We provide a platform to deliver another message

(Fascinating that “arttist” and “illustrator” are in English[2]. I’m not quite sure what to make of that.)

Here is part of MaskLab’s front page. There are plenty of pretty, pouting models, but this caught my eye:

Trying to break into the $70 billion wedding services market in the US is very smart (and, in this case, life-saving, since weddings are classic superspreader events), And here customers are encouraged to share their “looks” on Instagram:

Here is a potted history of MaskLab from the South China Morning Post. From 2020:

Hong Kong-based outdoor furniture maker 3i Corporation saw its exports to the US and Europe start to stagnate at the beginning of the year as the first reverberations of an economically disastrous global pandemic were felt.

To weather the downturn that was to come, the family firm with the unlikely name decided to do what dozens of others were doing: make protective face masks.

It started out with two machines in a factory in San Po Kong in April. Today it boasts six, capable of producing hundreds of thousands of masks a day, sold not only online but via three shops.

“It’s been a crazy rabbit hole that we’ve gone down” said Albert Chen, a son in the family business and CEO of its face mask spin-off, Masklab.

Companies like 3i had some advantages – outdoor furniture used non-woven fabric, also a critical material for some masks – but not everyone who jumped in had a business background.

In addition, MaskLab is careful about standards. From the US subsidiary’s FAQ:

Prior to making masks, we were a metrics-driven manufacturer who obsessed over engineering the highest quality products. Mask-making is a new endeavor for us, but we have brought the same type of fastidiousness to the craft. We believe mask producers should have the attention-to-detail on par with scientific laboratories, hence the name masklab. To stay true to the name, we have outfitted the factory with Hong Kong’s first automated filter tester so that we can verify the quality of every batch of our filters.

masklab™ products are tested by SGS, Eurofins, Nelson Labs, and STC.

MaskLab is based in Hong Kong, privately held, employs under 25 people, and has revenues under $25 million. Here is an interview on Reddit with the CEO.

Finally, here is a review of Masklab masks from BreatheSafeAir (apparently Korean-adjacent or -based). There is a purchase-link on the page, so discount if you will:

Masklab masks are a very unique and excellent idea. While I’ve seen many fashionable masks over my time running this website, I have never liked any of them as much as I’ve liked the Masklab designs.

If you want to complement your outfit, are looking for a way to stand out, or just want a mask that isn’t boring, Masklab’s KF-Series are a great choice. They are more pricey than comparable KF94 masks, and therefore they aren’t ideal for wear every day. However, they are well worth having on hand whenever you want to look great. They also make for great gifts!

The masks have been tested and surpassed the FFP2 requirements. Since the KF94 standard is based on the FFP2 standard and the form of the mask is almost identical to standard KF94 trifold/boat shape respirators, we can assume these masks perform very similarly.

Since these masks are so similar, there is a significant benefit in that you can judge whether or not they will fit you before purchasing. If you want to test the fit, go and find some cheap standard KF94s (in similar sizes) and fit-check them. If they fit, Masklab masks will too.

While offering good filtration as per EN149:2001 and ASTM F2100, Masklab also offers very breathable masks. I found that they feel more breathable than standard KF94s and closer to highly breathable masks such as those provided by AirQueen.

And the product rating for KF94s:


Awesome designs
Fit like a boat-style KF94/FFP2 mask
Certified FFP2 (in some regions)
Very breathable
ASTM F2100 Level 3 compliant


Quite expensive
No headband option

“Loose fitting” and “no headband option” boil down to all MaskLab masks having earloops, I’m guessing because of printing issues with vinyl straps. The author recommends “getting a cheap plastic clip or headband accessory.” Presumably the price would come down if the enormous US market could be cracked.

And now to my small plate of crow. Fortunately for my amour propre, I only missed one mention of MaskLab by a reader: Will, on April 20, 2023. (I also missed two mentions I made myself, on August 16, 2020 and October 17, 2022.) The real reason I missed the story is an overly-siloed data collection model: Basically, I read an enormous amount on Twitter, selected from an obssessively curated list of accounts, and I only added “hot mask summer” imventor @pxnzischemes, who came up with the MaskLab store in Seoul, quite recently. So I’ve been overly siloed on the scientific and political fields. But I think perhaps I’ve been overly siloed on the sites that I visit as well. I won’t be going on Instagram anytime soon unless the Tyrell Corporation fixes whatever’s gone wrong with The Zuckerberg™, but I’m seeing good stuff on Reddit too. So perhaps I need to expand my horizons a little bit (and going on Reddit may break me out of my generational silo as well).

Anyhow, that’s it on MaskLab. Anybody out there wear them?


[1] Even if one were to concede that “Covid over” (as I do not), masking is also protective against other viruses, as well as PM2.5 particles from wildfires and pollution generally. One might also urge that airborne viruses and particles in the air are not going away, and that making masking a norm “hardens” society against The Jackpot, which will doubtless include airborne antagonists of many kinds.

[2] Interestingly, this small firm in the “Five Eyes” country of New Zealand characterizes its “fashionble masks” as “Korean-Style.”


One sees K-Pop groups like Blackpink, Twice, and BTS taking the US by storm. I don’t think MaskLab is big enough to pay for product placement, but perhaps their management companies would consider encouraging their groups to wear cute, fashionable masks as a way to do a good deed for those of us trapped in the Third World.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. tevhatch

    Masks as fashion were an item in Hong Kong for some time, but I don’t know how far they have upped their game in terms of performance in the last 5 years. However, the weather reports for years have included the UV index and air quality.

    BTW, school kids in HK since the original SAR-COVID-2 outbreak have worn surgical masks to/from school, and during flu season while in class, and this has been going on for years. They are doing just fine with academics and health stats.

  2. Sputnik Sweetheart

    As a MaskLab wearer with a small face, I knot the earloops to make them fit. I usually wear them in less crowded places or situations with brief interactions and use headstrap masks on public transport.

    On an outing with a few former coworkers, one of them commented on how my MaskLab mask matched my clothing and asked me if I had them in different colors. Before we visited a bookstore, he convinced the rest of the group to mask up as well.

    The most important issue is assuring a good fit but I can also attest to the conversation starting power of these masks. I wish there were more brands with such variation. In Europe most colorful masks are surgical so it’s hard to find FFP2s that are certified and as beautiful as the ones from this company. When I was visiting Italy I saw a few people with colored KN95s but here in France the very few masked people wear baggy blues or KN95s in white or black.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      Yep. Here in Italy, there are many colors of masks, FFP2s Made in Italy, as they say. I bought some at a parafarmacia (store for nonprescription drugs, bandages, and related items) and at an “elettrodomestici” (a store for appliances and houseware).

      When I went for my blood draw to a nearby hospital in December, I was wearing my tan mask with my trench coat. The guard on the way out pointed out that my mask matched my coat. Only in Italy.

      Today, I have an orange mask for doing errands and dipping into stores. In this week’s lineup: Sky blue, indigo, and deep red.

      It helps that in Italian culture there is no stigma to wearing a mask. Nobody cares to comment.

    2. Laughingsong

      I knot the loops as well, and I find them still pretty comfy. I wore them with my badger seal until the strap on that broke too many times to fix. But I received many compliments, and they have lots of lovely patterns.

    1. Nicoleandmaggie

      We get Posh masks from behealthyusa — also on mask nerd’s recommended list. Our oldest especially likes the flamingo masks.

  3. Randy

    I went from my wife’s homemade cloth masks to MaskLab about 2 years ago. At $2.50/mask they are expensive. I bought some camo masks that were being discontinued for $2.00 apiece. They are ugly but around here they might be fashionable in fall. It doesn’t matter, I am not a slave to fashion.

    I will use up my supply of MaskLab masks in big stores with high ceilings but after that I will stick to my 3M Auras which are also ugly but a much better mask.

    The MaskLab fashion choices seem geared to female fashion preferences.

  4. Greg

    I used the MaskLab masks at the start of the pandemic here in NZ, there’s a couple of different companies importing them.
    They are a bit spendy for a disposable, although comparable to what we pay here for an N95. I was rotating them on a 4 day cycle so long as they didn’t get wet, same as I do with the N95s.

    The fit is way less reliable because of the soft edges and basic nose bridge wire. Useful and comfortable when risk is low for whatever reason. They’re very good for matching to outfits, as mentioned above, I had a few different colours/patterns.

    I’ve seen a fair few of them around on others, especially on the Asian students around campus.

  5. El Slobbo

    This article talks about Masklab as if it’s something special, but if you go to any drug store in Japan you generally see a full shelf with a large variety, some quite beautiful, by many different companies. Masklab isn’t sold here as far as I can tell. Aesthetics are important but I wouldn’t go so far as to call them fashion items. The nightclub masks that were designed with LEDs and color lines, for example, didn’t seem to do well.

  6. Biologist

    This Masklab is pretty cool – wish I lived in a first world country!

    Does anyone know what the latest is regarding re-use of FFP2/KN95/KF94 masks?

    I do reuse mine, given the costs. I recall reading that the designer of the N95 said that essentially the headstraps would wear out long before the filter did – but I don’t remember how general that statement was. Many masks say ‘NR’ (non-reusable) but I always wonder if that’s just covering their asses for lawsuits and/or just wanting to sell more.

    What do people here do? Re-use or use a new one for every new use?

    1. Basil Pesto

      I re-use until the strap snaps on my Aura although if I were being diligent I would throw them out before they get to that point (occasionally I do) as the fit will be compromised over time. Hard to put a number in it as I don’t track the time I have the mask on my face.

      I wouldn’t wear an earloop respirator of any kind unless I had no choice. It’s not about letting the perfect be the enemy of the good; it’s about having a bare minimum standard. Dr Satoshi Akima on twitter does some detailed mask testing and has outlined that earloop masks are essentially useless; even if you do somehow obtain a seal in fit testing, it’s very unlikely it will last a useful amount of time. That includes using “hacks” like crossing the earloop over or using a ‘tie’ behind your head.

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