When Covid-19 first hit Hong Kong, citizens were quick to react, scampering around for masks after experiencing the traumatising SARS outbreak back in 2003. The cost of masks soon inflated from HKD$39 a box to triple the price due to low supply for the nationwide demand. Queues snaked around the block of every drugstore and although digital ticketing solutions were quickly offered by retailers, elderly customers continued to wait in the cold for a commodity necessary for survival. To help
lp manage the lack of supply, local companies immediately jumped onboard to help the community, such as Mask Factory, which launched in February last year. The company operates out of a 20,000 square feet factory in the town of Yuen Long, which houses manufacturing and packaging – 15 production lines make over 1.5 million masks a day. To offer transparency and reassure many skeptical Hong Kongers, Mask Factory has welcomed industry peers to test its raw material samples by sharing its filter tester machine. Every week, the factory hosts meetings with other local mask makers to exchange information and discuss how to improve quality, even encouraging other brands to sell their items in their on- and offline stores. “If we want to take a space in the market, we have to work together to raise our quality as a whole,” explains Nick Lui, vice president of Mask Factory. A new retail experience Originally an online retailer with a few wholesale accounts in marketplaces and convenience stores, Mask Factory saw strong pre-sale results. Forty-eight hours before its first pre-sale, the business had already received 80 million orders. As demand for Mask Factory’s basic masks grew, the business added 320 products to its range and opened its first brick-and-mortar shop on Haiphong Road in Tsim Tsa Tsui, which was once filled with tourists. The 1,200-square-foot store is an extension of the brand, dubbed ‘MF Living’, featuring a wide collection of masks and a corner dedicated to Hong Kong consignment goods, such as high quality hygiene home care and body products. “MF Living is a completely new brand. It is the first step in extending our product offering from masks to daily living goods,” says Lui. What’s unique about the store is its mini factory – a replica of the facility in Yuen Long – featuring a window where interested passerby can observe mask production in real-time. Tours of the factory are also available for consumers, where they can enter the filtered production room. So far, there are more than 20 tours a day and weekends are often booked out. At the MF Living store, customers can watch mask production. Image: Supplied. The mini factory produces nearly 40,000 masks a day, fresh off the press for consumers to purchase and use. Customers can even design their own product in-store, choosing from ten different mask designs and a variety of ear loop straps, with more than 1,000 combinations possible. The customisation experience will be soon available online, with even more combinations and frequently updated designs and colours. “Our product enables our customers to become more creative when selecting their mask and expressing themselves. We are offering a unique experience to our customers, which also helps us to move away from price competition,” says Lui. With over 240 mask patterns to choose from, consumers are predominantly female but also appeal to the general public as an accessory to style with their outfits. “We have a significant size of loyal customers who pursue quality and style, and they don’t compromise quality for a lower price. When masks became a daily accessory instead of a necessity, they looked for something beyond [being just] functional,” shares Lui. Face masks have become accessories consumers can style with their outfits. Image: Facebook The new retail normal In Hong Kong, high streets that were once abuzz with affluent shoppers are now relatively empty, and local mask shops selling colourful protective gear have taken over. With vaccines still on the horizon, masks will continue to become a necessary everyday commodity for many countries. Businesses have capitalised on the opportunity, offering constantly new and improved designs – Mask Factory is even launching its own loyalty reward and cashback system. While other stores may be closing left, right and centre, mask stores will continue to be a fixture in the immediate future, offering customers a new kind of retail experience in the current climate. According to Lui, the Mask Factory now has plans to take the concept overseas in the future.