Mask-makers are searching for new markets to sell their products as countries start easing the pandemic restrictions that transformed their businesses overnight.
U.K.-based Cambridge Mask Co., which saw monthly sales surge from 15,000 units in January 2020 to 500,000 eight months later, is starting to push the benefits of masks in places ravaged by wildfires or with high levels of air pollution. Other companies are targeting medical professionals and new export markets.
Even if those efforts pan out, mask companies are still bracing for a slump in sales over the coming months as the pandemic ebbs. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson foreshadowed the shift this week, announcing an end to mask requirements in stores and public transportation as infections recede.
In late December, Cambridge Mask published a blog post listing non-COVID reasons to wear masks, like seasonal allergies or the flu. The company, which sells reusable masks with military-grade filtration technology, has also recently partnered with an international reforestation nonprofit pushing to raise awareness about wildfires, one of its main pre-pandemic sources of demand.
“We’re starting to fight the challenge of wildfires by rebuilding forests, but also it’s a way to market and promote,” said Cambridge Mask Chief Executive Officer Christopher Dobbing, who founded the company in 2015. He sees increasing demand for his products in the future from forest fires linked to global warming.
Even after the pandemic, global sales will likely remain higher than they were before COVID-19 because masks have become more acceptable in closed spaces such as airplanes, according to Lisa Brosseau, a respiratory protection expert and retired professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Before the pandemic, demand came mostly from Asian countries, where it’s long been more common to wear a mask to avoid the spread of germs.
Some mask-makers are looking to increase their international reach. San Francisco-based Vogmask said it wants to restart exports to Europe and India once U.S. demand recedes. Vogmask partner Wendover Brown said the future demand will be for “high-quality reusable” masks.
Norway’s ZincIn is in talks with U.S. distributors to sell its high-tech reusable masks. The company, which won certification by European regulators last year, hopes to sell as many as 200,000 masks in the New York area, founder and CEO Kjetil Christoffersen said in an interview.