Hello To All Our Wonderful Readers:
We welcome you to Antonio Stefano, which is much much more than any fashion brand you have ever encountered. There are many unique aspects to us: our love for animals, our desire to use paper, not plastics for shipping (yes, much more expensive) for our earth, and our desire to provide you not only with a top quality product, but also a product that does what it’s supposed to do, making you very happy and loyal customer. More about those issues in other blogs. This one will explain how we got into COVID masks.
Although I launched Antonio Stefano in 2016 and our ties have been sold worldwide amongst a high-end crowd, being busy as a lawyer, I did not have the time to devote to marketing nor did I have the contacts to companies I could trust to do what they promised and I just left the company to take care of itself. However, with COVID, we thought of turning lemons into lemonade and helping all the dogs who have been abused; so many more as a result of COVID. So, we decided to ascertain what we could do with my diverse background, and voila, masks made sense. I have a degree in biochemistry and genetics and that, combined with the fact that I went to fashion school for a year, finally made business sense.
The masks we market are not just masks. What’s the sense in having a mask because the law states you should when it doesn’t protect you? Our lives depend on our mask. I spent an hour a day (law makes you a great researcher) reading articles about COVID and masks and all that went with that. I felt that I was a person at risk, and so were many of my friends…what to do?
The next step was to find a great manufacturer in the United States. At least here, I was able to control the manufacturing, child labor, and COVID protections. We spent 2 weeks calling a number of manufacturers and only one ever returned our call. As luck would have it, these were lovely people we had met at Magic, one of the fashion industry’s largest conferences (65,000+ people a year in Vegas). They were the right choice for a number of great reasons, including customer service, communication, and quality, amongst others. They entertained my many requests for changes, modifications, adjustments, etc that go into any fashion article of any value; never complaints or issues, just a FedEx the next day with the new version.
After the many changes, the good news is that we received what we wanted. The bad news is that the cost of producing them in the US was high, and that is because the sewing on our masks is all conducted by hand. In China, it is either hand-made or machine-made but we could not risk any lack of COVID controls (no offense to China or the Chinese of course as they can conduct great work; however, we do not know the truth behind their statistics re COVID and they use a lot of child labor). Our local factory has 100% daily testing of all its employees. Why? Because the owners don’t want COVID and on the other hand, I don’t want my masks to be poisonous. On that note, I have to laugh when I hear companies advertising “we send our masks from our US based offices” LOL; that means they are not made in the US, they think people are stupid or want to trick them…welcome to a lawyer’s world!
Once we found our manufacturer, we had to deal with the various types of materials and we tested so so so many. We needed to find something that worked in protecting the person, but then we had to consider a big impediment a human provides: they have to breathe. We had to find a way to allow for protection while at the same time allowing for a comfort level. At the time, our biggest competition was the mask that had the breathing valves, and yes, we actually considered them, but we had to obtain them from China, and that slowed that conversation down. The good news is that (if you read blog 1) that the Center For Disease Control recommends to avoid them as they don’t protect the public or the person wearing them; they serve no purpose. On one hand, they are easy to breathe through (our challenge) but as we later found out, the easier it is to breathe through, the lesser the protection provided.
With that out of the way, the next challenge was the ‘surgical mask’ as they call it, or the blue disposable one that is the cheapest one on the market. I wore those when nothing was available. However, a friend of mine, a fellow scientist (once you are trained as a scientist you always think that way---these ‘arts’ degrees are useless in training a mind how to think in business) pointed out that the blue mask is waterproof and mine isn’t; he ran water from a sink and it did not penetrate the mask. That sounded threatening until it occurred to me that if you cannot pass water through it then how does air get through? Well, once he wrapped it around his face he was unable to breathe….hello…the way you breathe through those (remember the rule of least resistance) is by pulling and exhaling air through the top and bottom where it is not wrapped around your face. What does that mean? The air you are inhaling and exhaling is completely unfiltered! So, there goes that theory. Also, when I saw the YouTube video about how they are manufactured, all over the floor, people walking on them, that changed the respect I had for those. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8SAYIGZA3g.
Now we had to ascertain what would be safe. We purchased a number of masks from competitors; most seemed machine-made from aboard, the prices reflected that fact. We had surmised that the we required two things: a wicking (ie moisture-repelling) fabric and we required several layers but not connected! If we have connected layers then air will seek the level of least resistance again. However, if we have separate and distinct layers, then the COVID will have to attack all three separately to get through. This made better sense. Although each layer offers resistance, it has to make it through three, not just one. In addition, we decided to add the option of a PM 2.5 filter to one of the layers so that in essence is one layer plus 5 = 6, then two more to go. With the filter, we notice that if the seam wasn’t high enough, gravity would move it down, so back to retooling and now we moved the seam high enough to force the filter to the top of the mask and force your nose (most of your inhaling is nasal) to breathe filtered air.
The next step was to ascertain the fabrics to use. We had three layers: the outside, the lining, and the face shield. At first we thought cotton was the right material but it occurred to us that cotton absorbs, it does not repel moisture, so cotton would be the worst choice; think of your t-shirt when you perspire. That took all of 3 minutes. As much as we prefer not to use man-made alternatives, we are dealing with lives, so exceptions take place. I remembered from fashion school that certain fabrics have high wicking propensities (ie repel moisture well); these were our friends.
One of the biggest risks with COVID-19 is that people can create a cloud around themselves with the air they breathe. This cloud can be full of COVID particles that float with the air in the moisture content (humidity) of the air. They can last for 3.5 hours; this is a threat.
This brought another aspect into the conversation: electrostatic masks. There are two schools of thought on this and I don’t think you can change the beliefs of one side or the other on this. Surgical masks often advertise that they are electrostatic. The public doesn’t know what this means so they assume it’s good. Here’s the story: an electrostatic mask actually attracts moisture droplets and then holds on to them. I don’t like that. It’s like walking into a room, asking for a fight, and hoping you win. I would rather walk in and have the bad people ‘slide’ away. This is what our masks do; they allow water droplets to slide down them, rather than attracting them. If there is any sort of defect in an electrostatic mask, you could inhale a fatal dose of COVID-19. By the way, in manufacturing there are often defects, ask anyone in fashion, it’s normal, it’s OK and we try to eliminate those before the public sees them. If they slip through, we exchange them, knowing a very small percentage may have a problem of one type or another (there are ‘so’ many parts to a garment, you would be surprised). We designed our masks in order to have them repel the liquid like a raincoat, not attract them. So, we eliminated electrostatic as an option.
The second to last step involved finding a way to have them fully protect you. As most masks depend on the air on the sides of your nose and by your chin to provide air, it did not work for us as that would mean you would be breathing about 20% (possibly) contaminated air. This is what the inexpensive surgical masks have to do, at least the waterproof ones. We had to go a step better. The second problem was that they hung on with ear wraps. After severe testing we noticed that after a while the elastics on the washable ones deteriorate and the mask no longer stands up in your face, it sags.
This is when we came up with the last architectural piece: the string. We thought it would be the one way to be sure you could wrap your entire face. Here we also tested different strings and came up with a stretchable one, one that allowed you to easily tighten or loosen the grip, depending on what you were doing. Additionally, we wanted one that was easy to slip on. This is where the one-piece design of the string came in. You can have the mask on, get in your car, and slip it off your head, allowing it to fall down and be ready before you next exit your vehicle, easy. The 'U' at the bottom of the mask can also be at the top, they both work well, depending on where you want the knot to be. You only need to tie it once a day and you are set. Well, we weren't quite done yet. What were we to do with the ends of the strings? If we added plastic ends as you have with shoelaces, the constant washes would lead to swelling within the plastic and in time it would deteriorate. That didn't work. Then, in keeping with our brand, we looked at gold ends. They would look good, but again, with constant washing, the color would deteriorate. We could always just tie the ends but then we would risk fraying Solution? A hot knife to cauterize the ends at 800 degrees F. Now our manufacturers had to hot-knife both ends, mask by mask before they were sealed. Last but not least, we had to experiment with various lengths, so we measured a number of people of different ages and head sizes in order to come up with a length that works for everyone. Finally!
The next step was to design a mask in such a way that you could wear the same mask to work, to court, to meet your governor, or gamble in Monaco. We had to find an artist. Luckily, and purely by coincidence, we met a wonderful artist and designer, Matt Forderer, and we thought of redesigning the ties we had originally designed in Italy in order to fit a mask. In this way, you could have a first-class tie that fits your mask, and voila, a male or female has a matching outfit. He did that, and very well. We took our best-selling ties and made designs for our masks, and came up with 15 (we have 20 ties).
This is the journey your mask went through. We are not stopping there. We are now in research and development to ascertain if we can improve on anything. We are researching and testing various fabrics, analyzing various factors such as wicking quality, the addition of a non-toxic chemical to increase wicking, thread count, and many other factors. For each material, at the very least we require:
- GSM (grams per square meter = weight of the fabric = face comfort)
2. Thread count (ie warp and weft)
3. Percentage of each fabric in a cloth
4. The type of fabric it is ie Jersey, Terry, Twill,
5. Wicking potential
There are many more requirements but we will keep on testing and working hard to have the best mask out there. The N95 is great but in the US as you know largely unavailable. Some mask needs to protect us. I know the risks; I live in a beach community and so few people wear masks you wouldn’t think there was an epidemic: I get it as my life is on the line too.
Although I have met my goal of expressing to you the journey, I will state one last thing for your benefit. Be careful. Having spoken to my friends who are scientists, they seem to agree that in the US we are beyond the point of no return. In other words, most of us will catch COVID. Most of us will survive it, but some of us will die a gruesome and painful death. One of my medical professional friends had an interesting outlook. She stated that we will all encounter it; the question is whether we have a large dose or a small dose. If we have a small dose, our body can fight it and we will survive it. If we have a large dose, it will continue to replicate at an exponential rate and will kill us. If you have to get it, try to make it a small dose. Use gloves at a grocery store. Don’t touch boxes, mail, door handles, and other items of that nature without a Kleenex or paper towel. There is one last piece of information…I just read in a scientific journal that COVID-19 harbors itself in your body and has a way of deceiving our bodies into thinking that it is not foreign so that we do not create antibodies whilst it has a chance to replicate….once again …keep the doses to a minimum. Be careful. This is not the time to take risks or show off…it’s the time to live to enjoy another day…and to tell your family and friends how much they mean to you….
Be careful out there
CEO and Chief Creative Director