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Cover stars: how face masks became the new must-have licensed accessory

Source finds out how face coverings are helping to provide licensees with an incremental revenue stream at a much-needed time.

It’s maybe not the industry trend that we expected to be talking about in 2020, but face coverings have become the epitome of the ‘must-have’ accessory.

With pretty much every country across the globe mandating their use, consumers have quickly moved on from the plain, throwaway coverings, to reusable ones, adorned with various patterns, characters and artwork in a bid to help express their personalities and inject some colour.

US-based wholesale licensed apparel specialist, Trevco was first off the blocks, with ceo Trevor George establishing MaskClub in April solely to provide protective facial wear following the global pandemic. Following success in the US – a million visitors headed to the site in the first four weeks – MaskClub launched in Europe, with the UK being the first port of call, in June.

The company donates 10% of sales to frontline workers in each country a mask is sold, with NHS Charities Together being the beneficiary in the UK. As well as individual masks, the company also offers a mask subscription model, where customers receive a new mask every month from their favourite brand.

MaskClub founder Trevor George, with his wife Morgan and their son, Hudson.
MaskClub founder Trevor George, with his wife Morgan and their son, Hudson.

“It was my wife, Morgan, who first said to me that we should be doing face coverings while we were at home during the first few weeks of quarantine,” Trevor tells Source. “We launched on April 10 in the US and on April 11 we went viral… we had something like two billion media impressions in two months including being on national TV.”

MaskClub has licences from Warner Bros. Consumer Products, DC, Nickelodeon, Universal, WWE and emoji, plus brands such as Hello Kitty, Peanuts, Angry Birds and Crayola among others.

“We reached out to our existing licensors first, so we could take pre-existing art which was already approved for apparel and put it on face masks,” Trevor explains. “Since then, we’ve taken on some new licences and we’re also working with 35 colleges in the US right now. We wanted to be a destination for licensed face coverings, and we’ve certainly done that.”

In the UK, Pyramid International was one of the licensees which quickly pivoted on recognising the increasing need.

“We identified early that there was a growing demand for face coverings and wanted to do our part to keep people safe… but that didn’t mean they had to be boring,” says marketing executive, Robert Ling. “Many of the face masks available were fairly plain, so we wanted to introduce a face covering that would be both recognisable and eye catching, allowing them to really stand out in-store or online thus providing a chance for self-expression while staying safe for those wearing them.”

Pyramid is working with WBCP across its portfolio including Scooby-Doo and Friends.
Pyramid is working with WBCP across its portfolio including Scooby-Doo and Friends.

The company is currently working with Warner Bros. across its portfolio, including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Friends, Rick and Morty, Scooby-Doo, Looney Tunes and Harry Potter. It has also added face coverings for the Steven Rhodes licence, plus Pac Man and remains open to future opportunities.

Robert believes that while the pandemic has caused uncertainty, it is crucial to continue to look for the positives. “Having a fun, quirky face covering is one way to take something serious and make it enjoyable and fun. In that way we may be able to ease some of the anxiety,” he says.

TruffleShuffle has been working with Pyramid – as well as BWI and Difuzed – across a range of licences on reusable face coverings. “Initially the masks went crazy when the regulations were first imposed,” Lucy Cornish, buyer at TruffleShuffle, tells LSB. “Sales have continued to be pretty strong. I think keeping the offering refreshed with new designs is key as people may have stocked up early on out of necessity. Wearing a mask can look a little intimidating to others and isn’t necessarily something most of the population are used to seeing.

“I think incorporating fun elements such as slogans and wacky or nostalgic designs on face coverings definitely eases this a little. The Friends’ ‘How you Doin’?’ mask was genius as it kind of gives a warm (and funny) welcome when you can’t express it in a smile.”

Bravado is supporting the music community with its face coverings.
Bravado is supporting the music community with its face coverings.

Just like any trend, no one knows how long-term business will be in the category. For MaskClub, face covering designs will continue to be refreshed, just like any other apparel range. “We move with the times,” says Trevor. “We’re working on packs of five masks, so one for every day in terms of school or work, plus coverings that go with Halloween costumes and holiday masks for example. It’s now just business as usual.

“I don’t think next year is going to be any different from right now, there will be ebbs and flows [in demand] sure, but I think there’s at least another 18 months,” he concludes.

Museums & Galleries has been inspired by key artworks.
Museums & Galleries has been inspired by key artworks.

State of the art

It’s not just character and entertainment brands which are appearing on face coverings – lifestyle, music, heritage and museum brands are also proving popular thanks to the variety of eye-catching artwork available.

Museums & Galleries, for example, has developed a range showcasing major works of art and design. The range offers 12 different designs: William Morris’ Strawberry Thief, Edward Lear’s Birds and Owen Jones’ Moresque from the V&A; mineral designs and dinosaurs from the Natural History Museum; Turner, Mondrian and Norman Adam’s Rainbow Painting from the Tate Gallery; and The Great Wave and Cranes by Hokusai from the British Museum.

Meanwhile, Bravado launched its ‘We’ve Got You Covered’ ecommerce site in April, offerings fans reusable, washable, cloth face masks, made in partnership with artists across the Universal Music Group family – including Queen and the Rolling Stones among others. All net proceeds are supporting the music community through various charity partners around the world including Help Musicians in the UK.

This feature originally appeared in the autumn 2020 edition of Licensing Source Book. To read the full publication, click on this link.

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