The words ‘face mask’ and ‘elegance’ aren’t usually seen in the same sentence, but Masuku is trying to bring sustainability and style to conquer the ubiquitous single-use masks littering streets.
If there’s one thing we didn’t foresee back in 2019, it’s that face masks would become a state-mandated accessory, unless you’re exempt from wearing one.
But, as with most hurried mass-production exploits, there are inevitably issues. One such problem is often face masks are not fit for purpose, sometimes making it more difficult to breathe; secondly, many of these items are single-use only, taking more than 450 years to degrade, and so end up polluting environments and harming wildlife.
This is where the new £49 Masuku One mask comes in. “We knew that developing a highly sophisticated air filtration was pointless if not fully sustainable at the core,” says Natalia Vondianova, founding partner of Masuku.
Masuku is a joint venture between Vodianova and Berlin- and London-based design company Pentatonic, which has long advocated the circular economy. These shared values resulted in the formation of Masuku, which borrows the name from the Japanese for ‘mask’, a culture where mask-wearing is nothing novel, and has long been viewed as a sign of respect and courtesy for collective heath.
It was after a trip to Japan that Vodianova became inspired to create a mask that was more advanced, comfortable and responsibly made. But this is no reactionary business venture for Vodianova. In a bid to help people breathe cleaner air, the product has been in development for four years, way before the pandemic struck.
At a dedicated site in Hellaby, south Yorkshire, the team got to work on the mass production of its sustainable, breathable, nano-filtration technology. Pentatonic’s CEO Johann Boedecker claims the journey to the finished product was more iterative than expected. “Our technicians and designers had to redesign and reimagine what was possible many times over to get to where we are now,” he says.
The mask’s mesh fabric cover is made from recycled performance polymer, which is then heat-pressed and fuses to the soft guard fabric that is the part closest to the skin.
Rather than using stitches or glue, ultrasonic welding has been used so the outer layer can be recycled. The ear-loops are also designed from recycled materials, and the rest comprises bio-based or recyclable materials.
When it comes to using the mask, Boedecker explains how the Masuku filtration design makes it easier to breathe. “Our nano-fibre filtration method uses a newly developed electrospinning process,” he says. “Compared with melt-blown fibres or simple fabrics, which are used to make the vast majority of face masks, the electrospinning process is able to create a highly uniform membrane consisting of extremely fine fibres.” The theory goes that the minimal quantity of material required results in a more breathable mesh.
The team is also working on a single-use compostable version, the Masuku Daily (launching April 21), made from 100 per cent bio-based materials which will decompose naturally in water and earth within weeks.
“Our technology is currently pending certification,” Boedecker says. “Which is a lengthy process, but once obtained, we will be the only fully compostable, high-performance single-use mask.” Others though, including Leeds-based firm Henosis, are also claiming this particular green accolade.
But for Masuku it is the union of these eco credentials married with fashion sensibilities – something Vodianova is all too familiar with – that is key to its USP. “The mask market is so under-evolved,” says Boedecker. “Compared to other consumer categories such as eyewear or wearable technology, there is a complete lack of style and comfort.”
The Masuku One face mask costs £49 (or £22 as a monthly subscription) from Masuku.
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