Fashion designer Annah Stretton believes wearing face masks could become the new normal for Kiwis long after the lockdown ends.
Manufacturers across New Zealand have started turning their businesses into face mask operations to support the growing demand with all frontline workers being urged to wear them in the fight against Covid-19.
However, Waikato-based- Stretton said they're not just getting "slammed" by frontline workers, but also the general public, with more Kiwis already starting to embrace masks when they go out.
The business is one of around 100 NZ companies that has re-purposed their manufacturing plant to support the local production of face masks.
"We got an enquiry just before lockdown from a charity asking if we could make 6,000 fabric masks for them," Stretton said.
"We had a look at their pattern and thought we could actually do better than that, because we had a different pattern we were playing around with that we were actually going to use for the team.
"We got cleared as an essential business, delivered the 6,000 masks and from there it has just grown. We've since donated to places like meals on wheels, midwives and we've just done a big lot for the mission in Christchurch."
The company, based out of Morrinsville, works as a charity called Take Cover NZ where the same amount of masks the public buys gets donated to essential workers. The masks, made from fabric offcuts, come in an assorted bundle, are 100 per cent cotton and can be reused after a wash.
"At the moment the paper masks, especially at the front line, are getting changed up to three times a day so we're creating a mask that can be reused after a 90 degree celsius wash and can have an insert. Our masks can take a gauze pad or if you're brave enough a sanitary pad or pantyliner.”
Take Cover NZ isn't generating income, but Stretton said she believes there may be an opportunity in the future where New Zealanders "need a selection of masks just like socks or underwear".
"I think nothing is going to be normal for us again. And talking to China last night, where we also have a manufacturing plant, I was asking them to give me a feel for what it all feels like for them now.
"They're about three months ahead of us, physical distancing is back to a metre, but it’s still non negotiable that masks must be worn outside all the time. I think masks will be normalised here too.”
"There could also one day be the Zambesi mask, the Trelise Cooper mask, the Karen Walker mask. I think fashion will get into it, absolutely.”
As well as the standard mask, the company has developed face masks for kids aged five to eight and headbands for people who have to constantly wear a face mask and as a result get sore ears.
In response to the diverse debate about the benefits of fabric masks, Stretton said the company isn't claiming the masks prevent Covid-19.
"You have an element of people saying these masks aren't surgical, sure they're not but most people don't have access to surgical masks, they haven't got access to anything," she said.
"They're not surgical masks, but we are making masks to ease anxiety and stop hand to mouth transmission.
"We touch our face up to 500 times a day. So if we can just stop that one thing it's helpful."