Before now, facemasks have represented a fashion curio, limited to action films for concealing identity, usually of villains, and members of a dark underworld. No doubt, the disruption from the Coronavirus outbreak has led some people to entertain the possibility that we might, indeed, be living through a unique sci-fi plot, and watching the ending of the world unfold. In this new reality, facemasks have resurfaced in everyday use as a shield and leveller for heroes and villains alike.
But as international brands continue to donate masks in thousands, and entire nations remain in need of more of them, female-led Nigerian fashion outfit, Feisty Tees, is equally rising to the challenge, releasing a new facemask series for their followers – at no cost. This Lagos based brand is doubling down on style, expression, and community to create safety awareness, help followers stand out in style, and support the fight against a global pandemic.
In this interview, CEO and lead designer, Olubusola Mada, talked to product analyst, jiBllo, about the state of the fashion business, putting people over profits, and why showing up with a “we” mindset matters now more than ever. The conversation took place over WhatsApp and is edited for context and clarity.
JiBllo: As a business owner, what is guiding your choices at this time?
Olubusola Mada: For me, our customers and the people I work with, now is a time for feelings of humanity and comradeship. This extends beyond our organization to include the rest of the world, especially people working on the frontlines, everyone contributing their quota to kicking this monster virus out. It is this feeling that gives us confidence that we can beat this pandemic.
jiBllo: Do you think facemasks are here to stay?
OM: The trend has just begun and looks set to stay with us until at least the year runs out. And since people always wore masks, and some visibly enjoy wearing it now, I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.
JiBllo: What inspired your facemasks style choices?
OM: While we were brainstorming on the theme, we had options to use Ankara fabric – expected of an African brand – or masks with skull designs and scary symbols (laughs). But we realized that our best shot is to create masks that are relevant to our present situation. We wanted to inspire hope and a bit of playfulness so we created masks that say “No Panic,” “Quarantine and Chill,” “Spread Love Not Fear” and “Stay Safe” etc.
JiBllo: With these mask release, what feedback are you getting so far?
OM: People are happy about the masks, they love them, and we have seen many pictures and comments on our social media channels. Some have said the masks help them feel stylish at a time when it’s easy to not feel that way. Some have also commended the gesture of letting it be released for free. Releasing them at no cost (save for delivery fee) has virtually removed the entry barrier and these comments give us a lot of satisfaction.
JiBllo: What’s your take on global luxury brands who’ve released $60 facemasks at about the same time?
OM: I think they’re within their rights to do that but for us, this is not the time for that. Or if this pandemic is not curbed and everyone dies, who will spend the money? I’m aware that would be an extreme situation but it’s unsettling to want to carry on business as usual at a time like this. Money does not rank on the same pedestal as human lives. The entire pandemic seems to be a call to reassess our priorities. The retail price of our masks is about #1500 (or $5) but then we choose to give it out to create safety awareness rather than make a profit out of it. I think that is needed at this time. And this is not because our organization can’t use a boost in earnings, but if we are lucky to have bought these fabrics before the pandemic, I don’t think it’s a smart move to keep them while people require them.
JiBllo: How would you assess the state of fashion in the world right now and the paths for the future?
OM: What better way than to say fashion is not in vogue right now? When bare lives are on the line, it puts a lot of things in perspective. The pandemic is affecting everyone, most clothing labels cannot move their stock, and bills are piling up. The best way to react to this pandemic is to only produce items that are needed, for now, operating on a lean structure. The pandemic will also require that we stay visible to our customers and colleagues through different media channels. This is changing fashion. Many giant clothing brands are embracing online marketing and our customers are more receptive to online transactions than before. What I see is a future driven by sustainability, e-commerce, and virtual fashion tours.
JiBllo: Finally, how should people reach out to place an order for their masks?
OM: On our social media handles, we ask them to tag 5 people and chat us with their delivery details. We will dispatch to them and they can take up the delivery fee. We can be found on Twitter and IG with @feistytees and Facebook with @Feistyteess.
JiBllo: Thanks for your time.
OM: Thank you!