Face Mask Frenzy In Central Florida

Who’s making them, what to look for, and how to wear them safely with style.
Dawn Vo of Dawn’s Alterations spends more time these days making face masks of all sizes, shapes and designs.

Dawn Vo of Dawn’s Alterations spends more time these days making face masks of all sizes, shapes and designs. (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)

Nine months ago, who could have predicted that the hottest fashion accessory of 2020 would be a five-by-seven-inch strip of fabric designed to hide half your face? Sure, you can rock that new puffy-sleeve top, and your friend will cut a stylish silhouette in those mid-wash denims. But you’ll be nearly naked if you don’t add some face-mask flair.

Can’t sew? No problem. Plenty of local businesses are meeting the face-mask need for those who prefer cloth over disposable varieties to help slow the spread of coronavirus. Buy a black or white mask to coordinate with any clothing. Find prints and bright designs to accessorize favorite outfits. Strap on your school colors, don your company’s branded mask, or make a goofy mask statement—pig snout or shark teeth anyone?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you wear face coverings with multiple layers of fabric that fit snugly but comfortably over the nose and mouth, are secured with ear loops or ties, and allow for breathing without restriction. Save N95 and surgical masks for medical pros, and skip less-effective gaiters and bandanas.

Early in the pandemic, fashionable masks were hard to find. Now, your options are endless.

Writer Jennie Hess and her husband Walter Benjamin (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)

Writer Jennie Hess and her husband, Walter Benjamin (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)

Mask Business Booms

It was late March, and the coronavirus pandemic was heating up like a geyser ready to blow. Orlando native and University of Central Florida business alumna Jennifer Nguyen was on lockdown at her home in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. As she watched news of the coronavirus and talked long-distance with her Oviedo family, it hit Nguyen that most people on the planet needed a face-mask education.

“At that time, not many people were willing to wear masks,” Nguyen recalls. “In Asia, we wear masks as a preventative to help protect against pollution, dust and now COVID-19.”

Drawing on years of experience as a fashion entrepreneur, Nguyen quickly launched her boutique family-oriented business, Boss Masks. She designed a variety of styles, hired a team to sew from home, and sent samples to friends and family in Central Florida and beyond.

Business boomed. Canadian actress/pop singer Mitsou and Dutch footballer/Los Angeles Major League goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer posted unsolicited Instagram photos wearing their Boss Masks. Nguyen commissioned factories to produce higher volumes. Within four months, she sold more than 70,000 face masks to wholesale clients in the U. S., Canada, Africa, Israel and the United Kingdom. Nguyen also joined the Orlando Face Mask Strong Facebook group to donate masks to the Orlando community and recently added a retail sales option to the Boss Masks website.

“There are a lot of fashionable masks on the market,” she says. “I made mine simple, high-function and breathable so you can wear them every day for long periods of time. I wanted them to be fun, colorful and cheerful.”

Jonathan Dorely of Lordey Enterprises is an accidental mask entrepreneur. A small business owner, Dorely built his Lordey (notice the anagram) lifestyle brand based in Altamonte Springs in 2016 with a focus on custom clothing. In March, friends urged him to make some masks, but Dorely was reluctant.

“I didn’t want to benefit from a disaster,” he says. But after watching the mask trend grow, he sewed some samples from fashionable materials. Florida State Rep. Anna Eskamani promoted them on her Facebook page. “People loved it,” he says. “And when Anna wore it, I got a lot of attention.”

Since then, he’s been selling to consumers around Florida and farther-flung areas including New Jersey (where Dorely grew up before moving to Orlando), and even Paris. He plans to donate one mask for every mask purchased to a good cause.

Dawn’s Alterations is another Orlando small business that blossomed after a customer suggested that owner Dawn Vo should make masks. In June, when Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced a face-mask mandate, customers lined up outside her shop for their turn to purchase $5 fabric masks. She has sold as many as 500 masks a week. This summer, there’s been a steady flow of business, and “we keep making more so we have a variety for the community,” Vo says.

At Kpoppin USA, fans of anime (a style of Japanese animation) and K-pop (a music genre originated in South Korea) can find masks featuring their favorite anime characters, emojis and art designs. Owner Ted Kim opened his Orlando store three years ago featuring themed clothing, posters, music and plush toys. Kpoppin face masks originally were popular with comic book aficionados who wore them to myriad fan conventions. Since the pandemic, Kim says face mask sales have jumped from five-to-10 a week to about 100 a week.

“They’ve never been so popular for everyday sale,” Kim says. His masks run between $5 and $9. They aren’t all anime-themed—some masks in his stock of about 100 designs feature emojis, smiley faces and more.

Whether your look is fun, fashionable or silly, there’s a mask to suit your style.

Anna 1 Copy

Florida State Rep. Anna Eskamani wearing a Lordey mask (COURTESY OF ANNA ESKAMANI)

Mask Sense 101

What’s most important, says Orlando dermatologist John “Lucky” Meisenheimer, is that you wear a face mask to protect others and possibly yourself when you are out and about.

But keeping skin healthy can be a challenge for those who wear masks regularly; skin can become inflamed or break out in “maskne”—technically called acne mechanica. Meisenheimer suggests washing your face thoroughly and skipping makeup to avoid getting clogged pores.

“You’ve got a mask on, so nobody’s going to see it.” For chafing from a tight mask, he recommends applying an over-the-counter barrier cream containing dimethicone protectant and, when possible, removing the mask briefly to let your skin breathe.

Meisenheimer, known for his legendary Lucky’s Lake Swim on Lake Cane, now requires swimmers to register ahead, social distance, and wear a mask on arrival. “We have hundreds of people come to my house every week, and their sign of respect is for everybody to wear a face mask,” says Meisenheimer, who also offers custom masks for swim participants through the nonprofit Lake Cane Restoration Society. “Fashion changes, and now it’s cool to wear a mask!”

Mask Up!

Face masks we like can be found locally and online. Here’s a mix of retailers and online sites where you can find the mask that makes you smile beneath your cover-up:

Boss Masks, including masks with eye shields, are available at bossmasks.com

Lordey Apparel masks are available at lordey.com and also at Orlando’s Champs Elysees Flowers shop, which is owned by Dorely’s parents.

Anime and other fun masks are sold at Kpoppin USA, 8251 S. John Young Parkway, Orlando.

Dawn’s Alterations at 4915 S. Orange Ave., Orlando, makes masks to fit adults and children in a wide variety of colors, designs and sports logos. Search Dawn Alterations on Facebook

Parkdale PPE parkdaleppe.com has a fashionable mask selection and a new line of kids’ masks that include “shark mouth” and “green monster mouth” designs.

Disney and Universal fans can find their themed picks at Disney Springs and CityWalk.

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