Make It Work: How G.O.D. is defining the future of masks 

An illustration of a medical face mask with a nose and moustache.

In this series, we ask creative entrepreneur members how they’re pivoting during these uncertain times. Here, Hong Kong member Douglas Young shares how he’s overhauled his fashion and home goods label to create fashionable face masks to last

By Gavin Yeung    Illustration by Elena Xausa    Tuesday 7 July, 2020   Short read

To help navigate through this time of refocus and recalibration, we've launched a new initiative to share work opportunities, advice and connections: Soho Back to Work. Find out more here.

Mask culture is ubiquitous in Hong Kong, with roots dating back to the SARS epidemic of 2003. So seminal was this experience for the city that face masks became a common sight in the intervening years, defending its inhabitants against subsequent health threats. Or, for the image-conscious, they served merely to hide acne or a makeup-free face much in the same way a hat could hide a bad case of ‘bed head’. 

Yet, with the onset of COVID-19 at the end of January, it was clear that this time was different. Face masks came out en masse and have persistently remained on Hongkongers’ faces to the present day, despite active local cases edging close to zero. 

Member Douglas Young – whose G.O.D. (Goods of Desire) fashion and home goods label has garnered a loyal following for its tongue-in-cheek designs – sensed the staying power of face masks and deployed his vast archive of vibrant prints. Whether it’s an intricate eggshell-blue pattern taken from traditional porcelain bowls, or a collage of neon signs from Hong Kong’s Nathan Road, Young hopes his recyclable designs will become a new conduit for personal expression in lieu of a covered face.

Life in ‘the before’
‘G.O.D. is one of the few Hong Kong brands that is very Hong Kong in style and spirit, and we’re very much inspired by local culture. The crucial thing is that we try to update our traditions for an international audience. We’ve been around for more than 20 years and are mainly known for our quirky take on Chinese clothing.’

The big idea
‘We’ve always manufactured clothes in Hong Kong and we have our workshop here. With the virus situation, we felt that there was more of a need to produce recyclable face masks than clothes. 

‘From personal observation, I think that masks are kind of like seatbelts in cars. I remember when seatbelts were first introduced and people were complaining about how inconvenient they were, but by law you had to wear them – eventually you get used to them. Nowadays, if you get into a car and you don’t wear a seatbelt, you feel kind of unsafe. Masks are a bit like that: they’re inconvenient to begin with, but even now I’m very conscious of not wearing one when I’m walking around. I feel almost naked. There’s something about them that gives you security. I think masks are here to stay and there’s this demand for them to be more than just utilitarian.’

Taking the leap
‘We decided to completely switch our production to face masks, and now we have hundreds of designs. I’ve surprised myself with how creative I’ve been able to be with them. Because the whole pandemic is quite depressing for a lot of people, a little bit of humour and bright colour won’t go amiss. We’re finding that light-hearted and cheerful designs are the most popular. They’re made of cotton, so they’re washable, recyclable and much more environmentally friendly than throwaway surgical masks.

‘To satisfy the demand, it would have been easier to produce them in China. But, ever since the protests last year, there’s been a ban on face mask imports, so we had to produce all of them in Hong Kong.

‘It was a challenge to find the right shape and support for printing them, and marketing and changing the image of the company. We’re not known for doing face masks, so I turned to social media. We relied a lot on Facebook and my personal page in promoting them in a way that is funny and personal, so it doesn’t look like an advert.’

The response
‘Masks have become our main business now – we can’t make enough of them. We probably would have gone down without them. We have some innovative solutions coming out, including one that can be 3D-printed to resemble the lower half of your face.’

Life in ‘the after’
‘The next step will be the idea of going bespoke – either adding your name, or choosing special fabrics and cuts. We would definitely love to do tailored masks.

‘Aside from the face masks, we have accessories such as wallets to carry them in. We’re also going to introduce an extra pocket in some of our clothes just for your mask.

‘We’re in a leading position, so I don’t want to lose that advantage. Eventually, I think we will see the fashion industry develop face mask solutions. But it will probably take a little while for those big fashion houses to come to terms with the issue. It will happen – I can see a day when Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada will be doing masks but, knowing these big companies, it takes time for them to turn things around.’

Interested in becoming a member?