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Protection or fashion — why not both? Local boutiques embrace shift in fashion
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Purchase Effects in downtown Gainesville is selling "fashionable" face masks. - photo by Scott Rogers

Over the past months clothing stores across the U.S. have adapted to the changing world in the name of people’s well-being, and you guessed it — fashion. 

Masks are becoming more than COVID-19 protection. Instead of donning N95 or the blue disposable masks, many people have chosen tasteful alternatives to pair with outfits.

Several storefronts in downtown Gainesville have altered their offerings for the pandemic, including Rahab’s Rope, Image Boutique and Purchase Effect. 

Near the front of Image Boutique, masks of different patterns and colors are on display, ranging from $5 to $8. Kathryn Cuyler, the shop’s manager, said the business jumped on finding face covering suppliers as soon as they reopened in late April. She said finding a wholesaler with masks in stock proved tricky because of the demand. By May, the boutique began offering the hot items.

“We looked for a variety of stuff and different materials,” Cuyler said. “We made sure they are all adjustable.”

Connie Rock, owner of Purchase Effect on the square, also quickly acclimated to the shift in mask wear. As someone who keeps a close eye on trends, Rock said she knew her store needed to take a new direction. While her store was closed for around two months because of the pandemic, she searched for labels that not only sell fashionable face wear but make a positive difference in the world.

“Small businesses are trying to figure out how to survive,” she said. “I know I was going to have to change directions with the store. I saw that Swahili Coast started making these beautiful masks, and immediately I was like, ‘People are going to be wearing masks going forward.’ I thought I’d give it a shot.”

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Purchase Effects in downtown Gainesville is selling "fashionable" face masks. - photo by Scott Rogers

Rock has witnessed clothing companies who sell scarves modify their branding to show people how to wrap the cloth around their faces. She has also noticed others producing sweatshirts and T-shirts with excess fabric to cover the mouth and nose. 

“Wholesalers are getting creative,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing more of what they’re coming out with.”

As someone who has traveled around Asia, Rock has already seen masks used in both protective and fashionable ways. For example, techwear, which often incorporates the color black and face coverings, has remained a street fashion aesthetic in Japan for years.

“I think we’re (U.S.) just maybe a little behind, especially for another year, if not two,” Rock said. 

Both Purchase Effect and Rahab’s Rope have taken their mask offerings a step further by linking them with charitable causes.

Rahab’s Rope, a nonprofit that helps women and children in the fight against human trafficking in India, just recently began selling cloth masks at its stores in Gainesville and Clarkesville. 

David Moore, one of the organization’s directors, said members of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Clarkesville make the face coverings, which are sold for $5 at Rahab’s Rope. All the proceeds are donated to the charity, Operation Christmas Child, a program that supplies children with shoeboxes full of gifts for the holiday season.

Purchase Effect sells vibrantly printed masks for $8 to benefit Swahili Coast, a brand that partners with African artisans to promote workers’ rights in East Africa. 

The boutique is also stocked with three-layer face masks from Proud2Support, which donates at least 10% of its sales to development projects revolving around health, hygiene, water and education for underprivileged children and families around the world. 

“What I like about some of the companies (selling masks), is that they’re doing something where they’re giving back,” Rock said. “I knew that I had to change with the times, but I wanted to find companies that would make a difference.”

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Purchase Effects in downtown Gainesville is selling "fashionable" face masks. - photo by Scott Rogers
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