When face masks became a requirement, even the largest stores couldn’t keep up with the demand. Independent designers popped up on Etsy and Instagram to meet it. Now that corner stores are packed with face masks, and box stores have no shortage of multi-packs, independent designers remain in the game. Why? Because they are making the stylish ones. And style matters for an accessory as prominent as a face mask. As clothing designer Kylee Alexander puts it, “Masks are going to be around for a while—and accepting them into one’s personal style can definitely improve the outlook on wearing one.”
Local designers are creating masks that cover our faces, but still reveal a lot of flair. Their materials and prints range from subtle to statement-making, delicate to hardcore—but one thing they have in common: they are all crafted in Chicago.
Offering unisex masks in a variety of classic colors and prints, fashioned in luxury wools, soft cottons, silks and blended fabrics, Milton Latrell and Christopher Brackenridge at Agriculture guarantee you’re covered in style while turning their men’s apparel shop into a lifestyle brand.
Shop at: shopagriculture.com
“I use a variety of authentic African cloth fabrics, giving people a diverse cultural look while keeping them safe and fashionable,” says Afrocon Apparel’s Adebowale Sobitan, who creates face masks in vibrant colors and patterns for kids and adults, as well as personalized ones. “We are committed to diversifying the culture.”
Shop at: afroconapparel.com
Multimedia artist and performer Aurorae Parker makes masks with upcycled leather, along with silver, gold, bronze and gun-metal hardware. They started out by mostly using materials found around the house. “The first twelve masks were repurposed from my abuela’s leather skirt. They are reminiscent of leather fetish wear found in BDSM.”
Shop via Instagram at: @rubber_swan
“What’s special about my masks is that I design then print the fabric from a factory in the UK that focuses on printing fabrics sustainably. That means no harsh chemicals or dyes that are harmful on human skin or impact the environment,” says designer and healthcare worker Jaja. “My signature face mask—a floral pattern against a pale blue background—is directly inspired by surgical masks universally used in the medical industry,” she says. “It’s beautiful and has a calming effect. I think people enjoy it because of that.”
Shop at: jajado.info
“My fashion line focuses on sustainability so all of my masks are made from garment remnants, which makes the fabric really personable. Beyond that, the process is zero-waste—anything that doesn’t become a mask is turned into a quilt square,” says designer Kylee Alexander. “I have a mask that matches all of my handmade clothing,” she says. “Masks are going to be around for a while.”
Shop at: etsy.com/shop/KikibyKylee
Lilla Barn Clothing
“My masks are functional, comfortable, and make a visual statement,” says designer, Bergen Anderson, who makes face masks with adjustable, stretchy ties that can be worn by adults and kids alike. “In my business, I focus on bright colors and bold patterns. That has carried over to my mask-making since I’m using fabric from my collection. You’ll find masks for everyone including different colors, prints and gender neutral options. Why not make a statement while wearing a mask?”
Shop at: lillabarn.com
“All masks feature three layers (one layer of one-hundred percent cotton, one layer of non-woven polypropylene, then another layer of one-hundred percent cotton lining) with a pocket insert for a filter. The added nose wire helps the face mask fit better,” says Reyes, who donates one surgical cap to a frontline healthcare provider for every five face masks she sells. Prints are rotated in limited editions.
Shop at: sophiareyes.com
“I started the mask adventure as I was getting messages from friends on the frontlines. After working on donations and strictly for hospitals, I was able to donate around 1,000 masks and face shields to frontline workers. The monotony of mass producing was draining, so it has been a fun break to get creative designing fashion masks and appreciate all those that have supported me,” says designer Sarah Sands, who makes one-of-a-kind masks with upcycled fabrics. “If you are feeling wild, or attending a protest, I currently have a leather upcycled fringe mask on the site that is a show-stopper.”
Shop at: MASHALLAH, 1840 South Halsted
“I studied fashion design in college and I always feel better when I look good,” says the designer, saying, “I try to buy fun, unique patterns that people want to wear. Masks shouldn’t have to be basic.” They are made in one-hundred percent cotton fabric with elastic strings, nose wire and a filter pocket. Detwiler’s fiancé will deliver it to your door on his bike free of charge. “It feels really good to be putting my skills to use during a pandemic. Making masks takes up a lot of time but it also provides me with a creative outlet that otherwise may be spent learning how to make bread,” she says.
Shop via Instagram at: @trashcatcreative
Journalist Isa Giallorenzo was born in São Paulo, Brazil and has elected Chicago as her beloved home since 2009. She runs the street-style blog Chicago Looks and wants to see this town become one of the fashion capitals of the world.