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2020’s Product Licensing Hero?

by: Joshua Weinreich | December 14, 2020

Face Masked Crusaders

Has the pandemic transformed Paris, London, Milan and New York’s most coveted event—Fashion Week—into Face Mask Week? (One moment—filing the copyright on that phrase.) When athletic wear and yoga pants become the remote workforce’s uniforms du jour, high fashion in 2020 might be mistaken to define branded cannabis hoodies. The utilitarian face mask has become the lone vehicle for telegraphing one’s personal brand in the era of Covid-19.

Once the FDA approved fabric face coverings, it didn’t take long for the fashion world to take a big hint. Influencers’ “best of” lists, formerly showcasing beauty and fashion brands, are now comparing the comfort, efficacy, and fashionability of face masks with familiar licensed brands like Anthropologie, Vera Bradley, Madewell, and Alice + Olivia, and getting their fair share of press coverage. Acting with social responsibility, many are donating portions of their sales to first responder and non-profit funds.

From April to May of 2020 alone, 60,000 Etsy sellers had sold 12 million of their hand-crafted masks, to the tune of $133 million. Innovator and hearing-impaired inventor Allysa Dittmar and her partner Aaron Hsu launched their solution, ClearMask, offering the first transparent face mask that gives people, like herself, the necessary ability to lip read through face masks. Dittmar had the serendipitous good fortune to get her FDA approval right as her masks were gaining momentum, selling more than 12 million masks by the end of April 2020. (For the record, an inconspicuous licensed logo would look great silkscreened on the lower right of the ClearMask’s transparent mouthguard area.)

By April of this year, one licensed products manufacturer, Trevor George of Trevco, saw his business drop by 60%, but his wife saw a way to make lemonade out of lemons. She realized they already had done the hard part–they had the licensing deals. They just needed to apply them to branded face masks. And poof! was born. Touted as “the world’s largest face mask destination,” now people can subscribe and receive new, branded masks monthly for $9.99. Trevor George’s masks range from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Star Wars and Sesame Street. Batman fans will find no less than 96 options for their masked crusades.

But here’s an important point: having the license to create products branded with a superhero doesn’t automatically preclude having the licensing right to manufacture branded face masks. That’s where rights and royalties software keeps licensors aligned with their contractual agreements and out of court.

Where do we see this trend going? It depends. Obviously, fashion brands will extend their lines to include matching fabric face masks for outfits, purses, and headbands until this pandemic is well behind us. These are the questions we are asking ourselves:

  • Will Covid-19 go quietly into the night, rendering masks null and void?
  • Will a new virus strain take its place?
  • Will future generations’ kids look at 2020 wedding pictures and ask why that woman in the fancy pastel dress is wearing a mask that says “Maid of Honor”?

At the very least,  countries like China, whose citizens have worn masks for a long while, will still have a large population to buy these products, but elsewhere in the world, face masks could well become the Beanie Babies® of the fashion world—must-buy items-turned long forgotten, buried beneath the “I Survived the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020” t-shirts in our dresser drawers.