Soon after the face mask became an essential accessory, designers came up with their own versions: masks made of silk, tweed and satin; decorated with fringes, bows and sequins; for day and night; for weddings and political rallies.
When it became clear we’d be wearing masks for a while, some added another element: a chain or lanyard for storage (and added flair).
“It’s a cool accessory that goes with the other necklaces but is also functional,” said Karen Perez, whose company Second Wind catalyzed the trend with gold, silver, gunmetal, and lucite chains attached to hand-cut linen and hang silk masks.
Formerly reserved for librarians and extremely sporty people (see you croakies), such holders were bought from stylish porters. Jewelry designers and other professionals related to fashion have made their own. Large retailers like J. Crew, Free People, Fossil, Ann Taylor, and Banana Republic sell them, and thousands more can be found on Etsy. Celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Mindy Kaling, Elle Fanning, and Busy Philipps have been seen wearing them. (After losing several cloth masks, I also became a mask chain lover. My favorite is made of plastic rainbow links and was clearly marketed for children.)
Lele Sadoughi, who designs jewelry and accessories, started making masks in the spring. After a brief burst of inspiration, she had her team snap new photos of her sunglasses chains to show that they can also be used to wear masks.
“We sold a few dozen a week and sold hundreds a week,” Ms. Sadoughi said. “It’s almost a million dollar category for us now.”
Ms. Perez started Second Wind in the summer after living on savings for months. Her work as a stylist dried up early in the pandemic. On July 21, she announced a pre-sale on Instagram and expected around 100 orders. She sold 10,000 products in 24 hours.
“I didn’t have that supply,” said Ms. Perez. “I didn’t even have that much material.” To prepare the orders, she worked 20-hour days for seven weeks, and her family members helped her morning and evening.
The buzz really grew when big names caught the wind of Second Wind. For example, the representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited Ms. Perez’s studio in August. This month she wore a second wind mask and chain when she was sworn in for her second term in Congress. J. Lo was also photographed in a second wind design. Ms. Perez said Bloomingdale’s, Amazon, and Selfridges are among the major retailers that have asked to wear their products but she turned them down. She is not ready to scale her business to this level. (As of now, Ms. Perez is working with 40 craftsmen and her sisters are taking care of logistics and marketing.)
The lifespan of a mask chain may seem limited, like that of a mask itself, but Ms. Sadoughi believes the accessories will be useful even as more people are vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that those who have been vaccinated also wear a mask and social distance for the time being: although tests of the coronavirus vaccines show they are incredibly effective, individuals can still contract the virus while the vaccines take hold and could potentially spread it – especially if they come in close contact with others or stop wearing masks.
Even if coronavirus infection rates are falling, Ms. Sadoughi is betting that people will want to wear masks and mask chains on airplanes or public transport. Ms. Perez said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez made a similar point. “She said she would continue to wear a mask if she felt under the weather,” Ms. Perez said. “It’s a way of showing respect to other people.”
Whatever happens next, Ms. Sadoughi’s company has already benefited tremendously from all of the new customers who brought the masks and necklaces. In 2020, the company saw an 80 percent increase in sales and five times as many new customers to the site as in 2019. Some of that came from people who bought the masks and necklaces, Ms. Sadoughi said, but many also bought headbands or pearl earrings to match your new protective accessories.
“Every other category has risen,” said Ms. Sadoughi. “Our direct business has really exploded. We had a record year. “