A Wellington hat maker is going into the business of face masks, and he’s taking a bet that they will be a permanent fixture of post-Covid life.
Hills Hats general manager Simon Smuts-Kennedy said the 145 year old business made hats for everyone from marching bands to the police force to the fashion forward.
Now he wants to use its know-how in headwear and their existing machinery to produce face masks.
The factory was well set up to transition to making masks seamlessly.
“There are lots of different materials and base shapes that we use that fit on lots of different parts of your head. So that transition to get a mask on the back of your head was something I really wanted to drive for immediately,” he said.
The masks fasten at the back of the head so users don’t have to worry about it hanging around their ears or having to touch their face when putting it on or taking it off.
They have been designed to be reusable and washable, with filters that can be replaced as needed.
But Smuts-Kennedy is thinking beyond the merely practical.
“There is no reason why this shouldn’t be a fashion item. No reason that your mask can’t match your hat,” he said.
A range of fabrics would be available from florals to houndstooth, some will even feature Kiwiana imagery, Smuts-Kennedy said.
Future plans included an exclusive range of matching masks and hats.
A single mask with three basic filters retails online for $35, while a mask with three technical filters retails for $45.
The masks can be washed and re-used indefinitely, in theory lasting as long a shirt, he said.
Smuts-Kennedy thinks coughing and sneezing in public will be frowned on for a long time to come and hopes that people will choose to keep a mask in their car or handbag to be used as needed.
While the masks use high-end technical filters made of wool, they are not medically certified.
They are comprised of four layers – a base of linen or cotton, then a lightweight material to give it body, then the filter, followed by an antibacterial fabric that absorbs moisture from the skin. This same material is used for the linings of the technical hats the company made.
The company was already giving the masks to electricians, couriers and others and received permission from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment to manufacture the masks on April 20. Companies from all over New Zealand and even overseas had been making enquiries, Smuts-Kennedy said.
Production capacity at the Petone factory was between 400 and 500 masks a day, if the company focussed solely on producing masks, he said.