Undercover: Stay Safe—and Chic—in Masks Made by Black Designers

Illustration for article titled Undercover: Stay Safe—and Chic—in Masks Made by Black Designers
Photo: Elena Rostunova (Shutterstock)

We’ve now lost count of the days that we’ve been sheltering-in-place, but as the blooms emerge and the days grow longer, we are understandably longing to spend time basking in the spring sunshine—but safety first. And news flash, Beloveds—when the day comes that we finally venture back outdoors en masse (Alexa, play “Brand New Day” from The Wiz), the “return to normal” we keep hearing about is more likely to be a new normal—and accordingly, we’ll still need to be proceeding with caution.


Aside from continuing to thoroughly wash our hands (which we desperately hope you were in the habit of doing pre-pandemic, but implore you to do now), we’ll also be watching our mouths. Specifically, this means having face masks at the ready—which the CDC recommends everyone wear in public settings—to not only offer some protection from any potentially contaminating airborne particles but to remind us to keep our hands out of our faces (still easier said than done).

Remember: 25 percent of COVID-19 carriers may never be aware that they’re sick. Additionally, there’s growing evidence to suggest even a coronavirus vaccine may not be the big or quick fix we’re hoping for (h/t New York Magazine). So, for the foreseeable future, why not consider the equally growing evidence advocating that normalizing the wearing of face masks will keep us all healthier in the long run? Case in point: Just a few days ago, the New York Times, citing several studies that advised the widespread use of masks for equally broad lifesaving benefits, asked: “Are Face Masks the New Condoms?

While the comparison may seem...provocative, condoms undeniably made sex safer. And if you’re not up for making your own, a bevy of designers are making our newest civilian safeguard sexier, enabling us to “face mask—but make it fashion.” In fact, according to High Snobiety, early data suggests designer face mask resale may soon rival that of the high-end sneaker market (insert eye-roll here). But since we also know how much our crowd loves to support black businesses, we’ve compiled a list of black designers doing their best to keep us safe—with special shouts to online black business showcase Shoppe Black for a few of the resources included below. (Seriously, for black-owned businesses in almost every category imaginable, we highly recommend that you check them out for some unique and curated finds.)

Now, before we get started, it’s important to note that these options aren’t N95 masks—which are still recommended for medical professionals only, so no hoarding! Nor are they antiviral; you will need to wash and disinfect your masks regularly (and will likely want to, after all that mouth breathing). That said, these options are all multi-layered and the good news is that some variations of layered fabric masks rival surgical options in reducing the number of particles that can reach your respiratory system (h/t New York Times)—and when it comes to protecting our health, we all know something is substantially better than nothing at all.

With that in mind, let’s mask up, shall we?

Junny NYC


Junny NYC designer Junny Hibbert is one of The Root’s editor-in-chief Danielle Belton’s avowed favorites—and the designer, best known for her couture caftans and kimonos, is now applying her waste-not-want-not ethos to mask-making, keeping herself and her head seamstress busy by upcycling remnants of past collections and custom pieces to produce 100% cotton, double-layered masks ($15 each) straight from Harlem, N.Y. And if you really want Hibby’s designer touch, she’s got sequined and glow-in-the-dark options, too ($70).

Bonus points: In addition to giving some comprehensive advice on mask-wearing, each week, Junny NYC donates 30 or more masks to designated healthcare or first-responder facilities.


Custom Mask 19


Custom Mask 19's sleek but stylish options first caught our eye via their Divine Nine-inspired collection, allowing the Greek set to rep their respective colors while staying safe in these virus-laden streets. An HBCU-inspired collection is coming soon, but what prompted us to purchase was Custom Mask 19's hybrid cotton construction, “complete with an adjustable velcro closure and standard PM2.5 activated carbon filter.” Each mask costs $35 and there are a variety of solid colors and prints available, but we caught an on-site sale and copped a two-pack of their Deluxe Sport Valve Masks ($55, down from $80) plus a three-pack of replacement filters (also on sale for $13.99)—and we may or may not have thrown in a gold option ($35), just in case we have somewhere fancy to go on Zoom (you never know!).

Bonus points: According to its site, “Custom Mask 19 is dedicated to helping those in their own backyard, so a portion of all proceeds will go to communities within the D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas.”


Lola’s African Apparel


Lola’s wax-print face masks offer three layers of protection in the wax prints we’ve long loved wearing (scroll through the many options above; I feel some serious pattern play about to commence). At a recession-friendly $21.50 each, these face-hugging and culturally conscious offerings are available in Medium or Large, so no one has to forego a safe and snug fit.



Speaking of pattern-mixing, designer Prisca won our fashion- and first-responder-loving hearts with their stylish yet protective Adaobi bonnet set ($40) which “was crafted with the health workers in mind.” The satin-infused bonnet is reversible and intended for all hair types, while the mask includes a mesh insert—and if requested, your order can be “remixed” into a headwrap version. Just want the mask? At $5 each, Prisca’s prices can’t be beaten—so stock up!

Wrapped by Nellz


Another combo creation we’re loving comes courtesy of Wrapped by Nellz, which is wisely complimenting their existing array of vibrant headwraps with reversible filter masks ($12), which can be purchased as a reasonably priced headwrap and filter mask combo ($30). As someone desperately in need of a trip to her colorist, this is a pairing that can’t arrive at my door a moment too soon!

Candace Cort Designs


Candace Cort designs fashion-forward, work-friendly wear for modern women. Now that many of us are working from home, she’s added masks to the mix, giving us a broad array of 100% cotton patterns to choose from in sizes suitable for small kids to grown men. At $18 each, you don’t have to choose just one—and they’re reversible!. Our favorite? The “Hey Auntie,” which resonates with us for...reasons.

Aso + Asa by Noel B


Ooh, sparkly! If you thought being stuck indoors meant foregoing a bit of bling, think again—quarantine-appropriate glamour can be yours, thanks to designer Noel B. Her regular array of masks are being restocked, but if you’re in the market, she’s creating bespoke rhinestone masks ($150) through her Aso + Asa label. Too much bling for your corona-cautious budget? You can try her ruffled “Zahara” mask for $25, or keep an eye out for her headwrap and mask combos, coming soon.

Do these options make you feel any safer? Just a little? Listen...all quips aside, we know there’s really no making light of the situation we all find ourselves in, but if we can find a way to keep ourselves—and you—safer, that’s the best we can hope to do. Whether you buy from these vendors, have a favorite of your own, or choose to make them yourself, please protect yourself and others in public places and wear a mask until further notice. COVID-19 has shown itself to be both insidious and indiscriminate but is nevertheless affecting our communities with disproportionate and devastating results, so please stay alert, take this virus seriously, and, if you’re able, please support small black businesses like the ones above.


Their survival—and yours—may depend on it.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?