Reusable Masks

Reusable Face Mask Options in New Zealand

It seems that discarded face masks and gloves are becoming the latest addition to New Zealand’s streets these days. There’s nothing worse than seeing used masks and gloves on the side of the street, particularly when having to stop your 5 year old from going to pick them up.

Having said that, it’s great to see a trend in reusable masks taking off. I’ve been watching a lot of F1 recently and one thing they’re doing a great job of is showing how kick-ass masks can actually look. Seeing these professional drivers wearing branded masks – Red Bull, Mercedes-Benz, etc. – is hopefully helping to ‘normalise’ their use.

I’ve carried out some research into some of the reusable mask options available in New Zealand. It can be a minefield as there are many craft-style mask makers making very cheap masks, but then pointing out that the masks don’t necessarily offer the protection you need. One site even stated in the small print “This mask offers no protection. Its intent is to remind you not to touch your face.”

In the meantime, some of New Zealand’s high-end clothing brands have come to the party and are now supplying masks. These can vary in price, and in some cases it’s probably more about the brand and less about the product.

Disclaimer: I’m no expert, and I recommend doing your own research before buying a mask. If you’re high-risk, consult a trained medical professional.

Photo showing the Lucke face mask fitted on a face

Wearing the Lucke face mask.

Photo showing the Icebreaker Merino face mask fitted on a face

Wearing the Icebreaker face mask.

Photo showing the Liminal face mask fitted on a face

Wearing the Liminal face mask (excuse the Instagram story screenshot! @marklincoln)

What masks are recommended?

When the pandemic first started, I thought I was in a good position as I already had a few masks in stock. I’d bought some good quality 3M masks that were designed for gardening use; filtering out harmful fertiliser and the like. But I’ve since discovered that these have a plastic valve on them which completely opens when you breathe out, making them useless to protect those around you should you inadvertently be a victim of COVID-19.

In the meantime, other masks without these plastic filters may still not filter out small enough particles to stop the virus. Yet these masks may reduce the droplets that you could cough or sneeze out, so in a sense could offer more protection that the masks I’d bought.

While browsing Twitter, I came across a guide that the Mayo Clinic had produced. Intended to be displayed on their own premises as a guide for visitors, this guide is a handy way to see the difference in various masks, and was the first indicator to me that my 3M versions weren’t suitable (my mask is similar to those shown in the bottom of the guide).

In fact, my fertiliser-grade masks were less suitable than basic home made masks.

You can download the guide as a PDF from the Mayo Clinic website.

Mayo Clinic's guide to recommended masks

What to look for in a reusable mask

Many of the new masks that have come to the market aren’t officially certified. That’s probably because they’ve come to the market so quickly, and because certification may be a lengthy process and – to a degree – not necessary.

The two most important things to consider are filters and fit. Some masks don’t provide for a filter at all. Others have a filter built in which can’t be replaced (also making the mask unwashable). And others are multi-layered with an opening that allows you to insert a filter of your choice. That last option gives the ability to purchase filters separately, and that’s where the below options come in.

In terms of the ‘most approved’ mask, the N95 mask is one that was originally certified by the US government. They then quickly adopted the Chinese-spec KN95 mask due to their own shortages. You can see 3M’s guide to the difference in mask specifications in their PDF.

So for a filter insert in New Zealand, the Helix.iso™ appears to be what various reusable mask sellers are using. It’s a filter made in New Zealand from New Zealand wool that filters out > 80% of particles at 0.03 microns while offering high breathability. Lanaco have more info on their website and they also provide a DIY sewing guide for those who want to make their own masks. Download this here.

I’ve summarised a few New Zealand mask providers below. Each provider appears to endorse the Helix as the filter best suited to their mask.

Lanaco demonstrating a test of their Helix filter, long before COVID-19.

Mask Providers in New Zealand

There are many suppliers out there, but the below are some that I’ve come across that are from respected brands available in New Zealand and with a focus on sustainability.

Liminal’s Face Masks

Liminal is the company I chose for the order of my family’s masks. I first came across them when I saw a Facebook sponsored post by the Addington Coffee Co-op. These guys give 70% of their profits back to the local community, as well as the overseas communities from where they source their coffee and other items for their café. Liminal is their parent organisation, so I already felt comfortable looking into this brand.

These guys state that their masks are made by Freeset in Kolkata, India, through a World Fair Trade Organisation approved factory. You can actually see some of this process in a video in the header of their Facebook Page. The masks are made using organic cotton sheeting with a filter pocket. When combined with Lanaco’s Helix.iso filters, you can be fairly comfortable knowing you’ve chosen a mask that uses sustainable resources and has helped others through its manufacturer.

Despite the extra attention and care in its manufacture, the masks appear to offer great value. Especially compared to other providers of similar masks.

I bought a 3-pack of masks which included a 7-pack of Helix filters for the discounted price of $50, plus $7 shipping. Given that the 7-pack of filters retail at $25 on the Lanaco site (and Liminal actually offer this pack for $20), that basically meant I’d bought three nice quality, organic cotton, fairly manufactured masks for just $25, or $8.33 each. With the 3-pack you can also choose each mask size individually, so I bought a large for me, a medium for my wife, and a ‘kids’ for my kid.

Their customer support is also spot-on. I sent them a message after I realised the discount hadn’t been correctly applied, and I received a response almost straight away from one of their team (thanks Jeff) apologising and saying they were already crediting the difference.

An update with some pros and cons

Now that these masks have arrived, we’ve found them to be great quality BUT on the smaller size. My large mask is fine except that the ear straps are too short. It doesn’t take long before they’re painful on the ears. Note that this was a year ago so they may have changed this now.

Pros

  • Ethical manufacture and material sourcing
  • Good clean feel
  • Multiple size options
  • Can insert filters

Cons

  • Ours (made a year ago) are too small – the ear straps aren’t adjustable and can be painful on the ears after a short time

Icebreaker’s Merino Face Mask

Icebreaker is a climate-centric clothing brand with its origins in New Zealand. Their focus is on the manufacture of Merino wool clothing, with an emphasis on trendy-yet-technical outdoor clothing.

Their Merino facemask is a double-layered Merino wool mask. It’s a very simple design, literally two pieces of Merino sealed together across the front. This leaves a ridge down the front that some have complained about in reviews as ‘ruining the look’, but it doesn’t phase me in slightest. In fact, with its nice finish and the Icebreaker logo on the side, this is one of the nicer looking masks you can buy. It’s also – speaking from personal experience – by far the most comfortable. The ears ‘straps’ are all part of the same piece of Merino and, while they’re not adjustable, they’re incredibly comfortable. The mask itself feels warm and soft across your face, while its stiff enough that it holds its position very well. I’ve found there’s barely any need to adjust it while talking, and the ridge actually makes it very easy to adjust if you need to. You just pinch the ridge and lift or lower as needed. It’s so comfortable that I find myself wearing it on every bike ride.

Pros

  • Cheap – just $14.99 and free shipping at present
  • Four nice colour options
  • Incredibly soft and comfortable to wear
  • Sustainable materials
  • Easy to adjust, particularly with biking gloves on
  • Easily washed

Cons

  • May not be as protective as many other masks
  • Smalls like sheep when you first put it on! But this quickly fades
  • Can show a damp area after heavy breathing following running or biking (darker colour choices could be better then)
  • Some people don’t like the ridge on the front
  • Not possible to insert filters

Icebreaker currently have 10% off with your first order when you join their mailing list, plus free shipping at time of writing. View their face mask here.

Earth Sea Sky’s Face Masks

Earth Sea Sky is another New Zealand brand that’s made the move to face mask manufacture and supply. Their business is also based on sustainability, a ‘New Zealand made’ ethos (their masks are made in Christchurch), and they also promote and sell the Helix filters.

Unlike the other options here, they also promote the idea of New Zealanders creating their own masks. They share a link to Lanaco’s mask sewing guide (you can view the PDF here) and they even provide a DIY mask-making kit for just $9.90, although it doesn’t say much about the materials used.

Otherwise, they have single and two-pack mask options available on their website. Both come with a 7-pack of Helix filters and are made in New Zealand. Their masks also feature a label with the trendy Earth Sea Sky brand, if that floats your boat.

Earth Sea Sky Face Masks

Untouched World’s Face Masks

Untouched World is the first sustainable-fashion-brand company I came across that had created their own masks, thanks to a Stuff article on ‘stylish face masks selling out across New Zealand’.

The company itself is the ‘first fashion company in the world to be recognised by the United Nations for sustainability’, and their Ecoprotect™ Face Masks are sustainably made. However, their only mask to offer the ability to add the Helix filter was priced at $69. Its an organic cotton and Merino mix and came with a 7-pack of Helix filters, and the mask itself features a trendy Untouched World tag, but when you compare with the Liminal option – where I’ve basically bought three masks and included shipping for less than this price – the price is a little lofty.

Still, everywhere’s running out right now so it’s worth including a comparison option. And… the masks do look pretty trendy!

Small Business Face Mask Makers

After publishing this post, I linked to it from a ‘Zero Waste’ Facebook Group that I’m in. I had some awesome feedback from group members with regards to a number of small businesses and home-craft people that are also making masks, with a focus on sustainability. I actually feel a bit guilty by only focusing on the larger brands.

So to compensate and help support the locals, here’s a summary of some more face mask makers!

The Minimal Co.

With a physical store based in Wellington, The Minimal Co. offer a double layer face mask with filter pocket, made with cotton, linen, or denim fabric using a CDC approved pattern. The fabrics are sourced from material that they previously had for making beeswax wraps, and offcuts will be used for beeswax fire starters, or will be supplied to a local seamstress for a remnants project. Very cool.

Face Masks are from $30.

Recommended by Bridget F. of The Minimal Co.

Goagain

Tasha is making masks under her Goagain business using organic cotton left over from another project. Featuring a filter pocket, aluminium nose wire (removable for washing) and soft elastic ear loops, Goagain offer their masks in 5 different sizes, from toddlers to adults.

Face Masks are from $20.

Recommended by Tasha G. of Goagain

Little Yellow Bird

Little Yellow Bird appear to be doing quite well, with over 4,400 fans on Facebook. They are an “ethical uniform supplier with a focus on providing employment opportunities for the people and communities where their products are made.” They use organic, rain-fed cotton that supports small scale farmers. The masks they make with this organic cotton are made in Wellington, with elastics made in Levin. Along with the masks, they also provide the Helix filters.

Face Masks are from $35.

Recommended by Kim D.

The ReCreators

The ReCreators had multiple endorsements on my Facebook Post, as well as an appearance from one of their team, Geraldine. As they say: The ReCreators is a Social Enterprise based in Auckland, New Zealand, which promotes Upcycling either through purchasing products pre-made, custom-made or by learning to do it yourself (DIY) through workshops. They have a couple of mask options available, made from discarded new off-cuts.

Face Masks are from $12.

Recommended by Geraldine T. of The ReCreators, as well as Charlotte O., Melissa S., and Melissa G.

Lucke

I was just about to wrap-up this list and just add a link back to view the other suggestions back in the Facebook Group, and then I noticed that Lucke were quite unique in their approach. They make their masks using 100% recycled ocean waste (how cool is that?!) and also have options for masks that are embedded with ‘superior antiviral technology’ in the form of a ViralOff® treatment. I’m glad these guys were mentioned as they make some other cool stuff as well (e.g. socks made from recycled ocean plastic!).

Face Masks are from $25 to $49.95.

An update following purchase and wear

I ordered one of these masks and so now have some experience in its use. While I’ve been wearing my Icebreaker mask when on the bike and on walks around our neigbourhood, my Lucke mask is my go-to facemask when I want some better protection. It’s very comfortable to wear, feels nice, and looks pretty cool to boot.

Pros

  • Decent protection
  • Can add filters
  • Looks good
  • Feels smooth and comfortable

Cons

  • Needs a fair bit of adjusting when talking

The Ama Life

Locally made masks using off-cuts. The Ama Life also give back to their community – when Heidi first let me know about them she said that they were just arranging delivery of 15 masks that they had donated to their local Plunket to distribute. Masks are made with 100% cotton and are three layers. Uniquely, they provide their ties open so that you can adjust them to your own head size for the perfect fit.

Face Masks are from $15.

Recommended by Heidi M. of The Ama Life

G-Gee’s

Based in Lower Hutt, Gina Gee’s vision is to “make environmentally sustainable and socially ethical fashion the fashion of choice.” I don’t think Gina has the masks on her website yet, but they can be purchased via sending her Facebook Page a PM. Masks are lined with organic cotton and feature a pocket for a filter.

Face Masks are from $15.

Recommended by Catherine D.

Made with Love

In the Hamilton area, Carol makes her masks using ‘pre-loved fabric sourced from local op shops’. I don’t believe they have a pocket for a filter, but they could still be a good basic option and are low cost, plus they’re delivered in compostable packaging for a shipping price from just $1.50.

Face Masks are from $10.

Recommended by Helen W.

Sustainable Papakura

Sustainable Papakura are based in… Papakura 🙂 They don’t have their masks on their website at time of writing, but I suspect they may not need to! Following their Facebook Post, they apparently have a small team of volunteers that have diligently been making over 80 masks to fill pre-orders.

Face Masks are from $7.50.

Recommended by Sue O.

And the rest!

The suggestions are still coming in, so be sure to visit the Zero Waste NZ Facebook Group and view the discussion thread for more options and to join the conversation.

Final comments…

Be aware that at time of writing… a lot of businesses are sold out! The Liminal masks I ordered are due to be dispatched on 25th August. The importance of masks has been circulating more and more in New Zealand media (let’s just not talk about what’s going on in the US, however), so more and more people are making sure they have decent stock.

As far as I’m aware, places like Mitre 10 do still have disposable masks in stock. I bought a 10-pack of KN95 grade masks a few weeks ago that were under Mitre 10’s own ‘Jobmate’ brand. The KN95 designation should mean they’re actually higher-spec than the reusable masks I’ve mentioned here, but they’re not reusable. So we’ll keep these in reserve should we need to enter any high-risk areas, and we’ll leave our reusable mask use to general store visits and other recommendations should we move to Level 3 or 4 again in our area.

Note: I’ve just realised that Mitre 10 have increased the price from $19.99 for a 10-pack to $29.99 in the space of a couple of weeks, no doubt due to the increased demand. Make of that as you will!

If you’re aware of any other decent reusable mask providers – with a focus on New Zealand businesses and sustainable resources – then feel free to let me know.

Main photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

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