A Hong Kong sports apparel company has produced one of the most breathable exercise masks yet, but the origin of the design has a bizarre story.
Sports apparel company T8 specialises in lightweight, anti-chafe shorts for runners. The material is particularly thin to wick sweat and reduce rubbing. But when the Hong Kong government enforced mask wearing, even during exercise, runners started cutting up their Commando running underwear and wearing them on their face.
“When the mask rule came into Hong Kong, we had running buddies putting our undies on their face. So clearly it’s a fabric that works, but we don’t want people putting undies on their faces,” said John Ellis, Hong Kong ultra running star and T8 co-founder.
The mask is sold in packs of two at HK$98. It is incredibly light and does not restrict breathing. There is a stiff component – the SpaceBrace – in the middle to keep the mask taut and off your face. You can remove the SpaceBrace to wash your mask by hand or in the washing machine. T8 recommends you reuse the mask 15 to 20 times before replacing it.
“It might be ‘just a mask’ but there’s a lot of design. The SpaceBrace needed the right flex and durability to keep the mask off your mouth to help breathability, especially when wet. We tested bucketloads to get to the final product,” Ellis said.
The government has since recanted its rules forcing people to wearing masks when exercising. But the Covid-19 threat is ongoing and some people still feel more comfortable running with protection.
“Being safe is the number one priority for everyone at the moment. However, there are some situations, when you are running trails by yourself, for example, where you don’t need the full protection of a surgical mask. We want to keep that medical grade PPE for our front-line medical staff,” Ellis said.
It is easy to go through a few disposable masks a day, especially if you are using them for exercise, too. There is an increasing number of disposable masks littering the trails.
“There’s also an environmental cost to daily disposables, too,” Ellis said. “So our goal was a non-medical fabric mask that is washable and reusable, as well as offering better breathability.”
Ellis and T8 are quick to point out this is not a like-for-like replacement of a surgical mask.
“Of course, this isn’t a solution for all situations – and it’s also not a replacement for social distancing and good hygiene – but we think it’s a good solution for solo runs and other less busy situations where you value the extra breathability.”
“This last is important. Even in corporate environments, it is very difficult to remove an underling for incompetence if that underling has seniority and a long history of good performance reviews. As in government bureaucracies, the easiest way to deal with such people is often to “kick them upstairs”: promote them to a higher post, where they become somebody else’s problem.”