Remember back in March, when it was virtually impossible to buy a cloth face mask? Since then, ready-made masks have become easy to purchase online, as companies have stepped up to meet overwhelming demand. A special source is VIDA, an e-commerce site owned by Pakistan-born, Omaimah Mendhro, a Harvard MBA with an outsized social conscience and a love of art and design.
Over the past six months, we’ve purchased many different types of masks—from homemade ones that tie in the back to ones with the standard elastic ear straps. We’ve collected them in a multitude of colors and patterns. Of them all, however, VIDA masks stand out in terms of comfort, protection and fashion!
A Global Endeavor
Mendhro’s family hails from Pakistan. Fleeing a coup, she moved with her family to the U.K., then to Saudi Arabia. Eventually she came to the United States, studied computer science and technology and entered Harvard Business School where she she was a Baker Scholar, graduating in the top 5 percent of her class. After working at Microsoft and West Corporation, she started VIDA in 2014, an enterprise that combines her three interests: design, technology and a desire to make the world a better place.
San Francisco-based VIDA is unique. Mendhro calls it a “global platform for creatives.” Here, artists from all over the world apply their designs to a variety of products — scarves, wraps, tops, handbags, totes, yoga pants, pillows and glass trays and, now, face masks—which, in turn, are manufactured in facilities worldwide. Today VIDA has over 100,000 artists, representing over 150 countries.
But that’s not all. Mendhro strongly believes that education is the best way to level the field and give people the means to fulfill their dreams. That’s why the company supports education and empowerment programs for its workers. One of the first was in her hometown of Karachi, Pakistan.
Mendhro’s model is not only socially responsible, it also eliminates much of the waste and inefficiency for which the fashion industry has been criticized, since products are made on demand. Moreover, in her model, everyone benefits: Artists don’t need to carry lots of inventory or pay high up-front costs, while workers acquire jobs and skills to make their lives better.
Shopping Is Fun
Come to VIDA’s site for a face mask and you’ll be tempted to shop for other products. Here’s a tri-colored scarf in an abstract “paint splatter” pattern; there’s a sheer, sweeping full-length wrap with an unusual design you’ll never find elsewhere. You can also shop by theme (e.g. “minimalist,” “desert inspired”) or color ( e.g. “black and white,” “lemon yellow” ).
Dig deeper and you’ll uncover impressive partnerships and collaborations. One is with Cher, who has designed a line of scarves and clutches. Another is with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which has licensed Wright’s ’50s-era textile designs. These jazzy geometrics, with subtle retro vibes, enliven scarves, bags and iPhone cases.
But even a necessity like a face mask can be a wardrobe enhancer. We especially like the Black Lives Matter collection designed by Black artists, as well a new line that features sophisticated prints and colors for fall. (By the way, when you buy a mask, it’s inspiring to know that VIDA is donating 30,000+ protective masks for essential workers and communities in need in the United States. Recent promotions have also benefited the Food Bank For New York City.)
The Mask Deconstructed
Now, some practical considerations. Per Consumer Lab’s enlightening report on masks, VIDA masks meet the World Health Organization’s requirements for non-medical use. Made of two layers of 100% cotton plus a disposable filter layer, they come in three sizes (child, regular and extra large). We like how they fit close to the sides of the face and have a flexible wire around the top, which you can adjust to follow the contours of your nose (a big help to prevent fogged glasses). Moreover, the ear straps are adjustable by inching the little plastic cinches, mounted near the end of the straps, toward the ears.
A nice and often-omitted extra is the filter pocket. Each mask comes with three filters, but you can order more. These are “war horses,” made of two layers of non-woven fabric, surrounding 2 melt-blown polypropylene layers with an inner activated carbon filter. The designation is PM2.5, which the company says filters particulate matter 2.5 microns or less. (The coronoavirus is around 1.25 microns. Although we haven’t seen tests or explanations of how well PM2.5 filters work in trapping viruses, more than one source suggests they do. We are still waiting for the layman’s report!) Just be aware that PM2.5 filters are not as efficacious as N-95 masks which, due to short supply, are reserved for medical workers.
VIDA’s customer service reps claim the filter effectively traps contaminants for 50-60 hours. For this reason, VIDA recommends changing it every seven days (sooner if exposed to smoke, construction dust, and the like.) Between uses, the filter can be taken stored in a Ziploc® bag. However, since we prefer to handle used masks as little as possible, we insert a new filter whenever we reach for a clean mask. (Note: one company suggests sterilizing a used mask and filter in a UV device . This would seem to lessen the chance of cross contamination caused by fumbling with a dirty mask.)
The filters aren’t cheap. Prices range from $2.40 each for a package of five to $1.50 each for a bulk purchase of 1000. You can, of course, wear the masks without a filter and reserve filters for situations that seem especially high-risk, like crowded stores or protest marches.
Masks produced in the United States ship in one to 3 days. Designs made abroad ship may take longer, depending on the location.
Browse the VIDA line at shopVIDA.com. In the meantime, sign up for emails to get word of new collections and promotions.