On 4 January 2021, wearing face masks or face coverings became mandatory in some indoor public spaces across metropolitan Sydney. Wearing face masks in indoor public spaces was also made mandatory again in Victoria on 31 December.
While face masks are in far greater supply than they were when Victoria first enacted mask laws in July 2020, finding a high quality reusable face mask can still be a challenge, especially with many businesses closed over the holiday period.
Fortunately, if you cannot buy a mask, making your own is relatively simple. In July, The Social Studio, a Melbourne-based social enterprise and fashion training program, partnered with the Victorian government to make an instructional video and pattern for creating your own mask.
“Essentially there are three different types of fabric that need to be included,” Aleksandra Nedeljkovic, chief operating officer of The Social Studio told Guardian Australia in July 2020. “One is an outer layer which needs to be water repellant, then there’s an … interfacing layer that helps keep nasty particales out, then the inner layer is a breathable fabric, like 100% cotton. It’s those three combined that make a mask effective.”
While three-layer masks are not mandated, both the Victorian and NSW guidelines do recommend that masks with at least three layers will be the most effective form of protection.
Nedeljkovic says that, provided you can get the right fabric – “which shouldn’t be too tricky” – anyone can make their own mask. If finding cloth is difficult, you can even take a leaf out of The Social Studio’s manufacturing playbook and repurpose fabric from existing garments you no longer use, or even a reusable shopping bag (for the outer layer of the mask).
If you bought an anti-pollution face mask before the Covid-19 pandemic, it may also be suitable to wear now, but the Victorian guidelines advise against wearing masks that feature holes or a valve, as “this can result in breathing out the virus if you have coronavirus”.
It is also worth noting that a mask will only be effective if it covers your nose and mouth – wearing a mask with your nose peaking out over the top will not protect you, or anyone else.
For those who would prefer to buy, rather than make their own mask, Guardian Australia has compiled a list of suppliers of reusable face masks, all with at least three layers, to suit a range of tastes and budgets.
Please note that while stocks of all masks were available at the time of writing, some may have sold out or gone on back order subsequently.
Washable masks with at least three layers
Featuring artwork by Gunditjmara woman Laura Thompson on one side and plain black on the other, this reversible mask from social enterprise Clothing the Gap comes in two sizes, with adjustable elastic ear loops.
Adelaide-based Lisa Penney has added face masks to her Australian made and eco-friendly hi-vis arsenal – the masks come in a variety of colours and prints, all with a cheeky reflective Covid-19 print. Also available in four-packs.
Australian not-for-profit retailer and manufacturer The Social Outfit is no stranger to employing fashion as a cause for change. Its day-to-day operations provide work and training in the fashion industry for refugees and new migrant communities.
Each mask sold contributes to a buy-one-give-one model, supplying a mask to a person in need. Each mask is made of remnant fabric, so the pattern you get will be a lucky dip-style surprise.
Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung and Gamilaroi artist Maddy Connors has painted six designs to adorn the masks she creates for her printmaking and apparel business Yarli Collective.
Crafted by theatre costume maker Tirion Rodwell, these machine-washable, foldable face masks come in a variety of prints and colourways. The pleated structure of the masks makes them – from personal experience – the most comfortable style we’ve tried so far.
Made in Melbourne, Nobody’s face masks are Ethical Clothing Australia-accredited, reversible and allow you to embrace a fondness for double denim, right on your face. Nobody Denim has also repurposed some of its manufacturing facilities to make scrubs for frontline workers.
For days when getting out of bed feels like a challenge, illustrator Sara Sidari’s three-layer printed face mask lets you take your sheets with you – the outer layer is 100% linen, with a cotton middle layer and soft jersey lining. They are screen printed and manufactured in Australia.
Ethical clothing manufacturer The Ark’s three-packs of paisley and gingham printed masks bring a touch of cottagecore to personal protection.
For wool fans, Merino Country makes a three-layer mask from Australian merino, with rubber straps that tie around the back of the head. It is made in Australia and available in several colourways.
Filter compatible masks
Melbourne based lingerie designer Natalie Begg has brought her soft touch to face masks, with a range of washable silk masks in three sizes and multiple colours. They come with a filter pocket, and PM2.5 disposable filter, for days you want protection from pollution, as well as the pandemic.
For hirsute fellows, this filter-compatible, 100% cotton mask from US based manufacturer Unhinged Labs accommodates a lot of extra hair. Because it is coming from overseas, shipping will take a little longer, and filters are sold separately. Locally, Fella Hamilton also make a beard-compatible face mask, but it is two-ply. Vic Health advises “wearing a mask with less layers will still give you some protection”.
US-brand Redee has designed a filter-compatible, two-ply mask that is meant to make it easier to drink through a straw, without removing or touching your mask. The mask fits snugly around the face, but has a covered flap to allow a straw through the bottom of the mask, whilst leaving your nose and mouth covered.
With a filter inserted, this mask appears to meet Vic Health and NSW Health recommendations, but accidentally touching the straw to the front of the mask could be an issue with day-to-day use. Vic Health does advise against masks which rely on valve openings, several of which are currently available from retailers internationally, and are also marketed as “straw friendly”.