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The Business of Face Masks: Finding Opportunity in the Face of Adversity

5 min. readbyVexxit StaffonOctober 05, 2020
From Disney to your neighbour, it seems like everyone is now in the business of making face masks, but at what point does it start to look like people are profiting from the pandemic?

When the pandemic started to spread back in February and March, it was not easy to find a mask. Amazon was charging exorbitant prices for a box of N-95s and Home Depot was sold out. Authorities asked us not to buy them anyway, in order to preserve the supply for front-line workers and medical professionals.

Cue the cottage industry and the arts-and-crafts crowd. Every auntie in town (and her nieces) began snipping, folding and stitching cloth masks from cute fabric scraps. Once the family was sufficiently masked up, these DIY wizards turned to Instagram, Etsy and Shopify to start selling to the public – and a million home-based businesses were born.

Etsy witnessed what they called “skyrocketing demand.” During the second quarter of 2020, Etsy reported that 7% of its buyers, or 4 million people, came to its marketplace just to buy face masks. As a result, the site reached out to its existing community of sellers and asked them to pivot their businesses to mask-making.

By August, Etsy reported that 110,000 sellers on its site had sold a total of 29 million face masks worth $346 million during its second quarter. Speaking to analysts, Etsy CEO Josh Silverman said, "These are really big numbers. It's hard to wrap your head around them, but to give you some sense of scale, that's enough masks to stretch all the way from New York to London."

Naturally, retail businesses wanted a piece of the PPE action. Face masks are now the hottest fall fashion accessory and everyone from the NHL to Burberry is hawking their own branded versions. Louis Vuitton recently introduced a $960 USD face shield – for the covid-avoider who has everything – despite the CDC’s insistence that face shields are not adequate substitutes for masks.

In the short span of a few months, cloth face masks have become a multi-billion industry. According to CNN, a report from Chicago-based global market research firm Arizton Advisory and Intelligence, “estimates the cloth face mask market will reach $800 million in the US, and $3 billion globally, by the end of 2020.”

It’s not entirely unprecedented for home remedies in a crisis to turn into commercial interests. During the Spanish flu of 1918-1919, people wore bags of camphor herbs around their neck to ward off sickness. That was the precursor to camphor ointment, commonly sold today as Vicks VapoRub.

The ability to turn adversity into opportunity is a hallmark of any great entrepreneur. A strong business plan can turn that opportunity into a viable, revenue-generating and sustainable business. If you’ve got an idea in mind and aren’t quite sure how to get it off the ground, set up a call with a business advisor or professional accountant who can help guide you through the set up and growth phases of your new enterprise.

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