BYBROWN believes that the face mask is a canvas for self-expression and a means of protection, not only for yourself but also others. We are proud to have been one of the first to make non-medical face masks in the Netherlands, providing not only protection, but comfort through an anatomical design which leaves the ears free.
When the first case of COVID-19 appeared in the Netherlands on February 27th 2020, we received advice from a close Hong Kong relative of the brand, about the benefits of wearing a face mask. We were inspired and believed that we could learn from him as he had previously experienced the SARS-outbreak in 2003. We quickly anticipated and developed an accessible design, making several masks for our friends and family, although it felt rather strange putting any layer of protection on our faces. At that time, we didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of the situation and the idea of such an intrusion on our freedom was a faraway notion in our heads.
When the Dutch government announced the closure of schools, cafes and restaurants on March 15th, it was a solid sign that the situation was serious.
After Melanie Brown posted a video of herself wearing the BYBROWN mask, a few early adopters, including Ingeborg van Lieshout, a journalist, picked up on it and were interested in getting one. After sending a mask to Ingeborg, we were unexpectedly mentioned in an article on Bright.nl (now RTLnieuws.nl). As a result, the BYBROWN website was flooded with visitors searching for the masks. For us, it felt natural to extend our offer and adapt this idea of protection to the demand. We then started producing the masks in our Amsterdam studio.
At the time, there was also a shortage of medical masks for health workers in the Netherlands, thus we felt the need to contribute by making masks according to the specifications of Buurtzorg, Buurtdiensten and Educared. For every BYBROWN mask sold, we donated two to community health workers in Brabant and The Asylum Centre in Amsterdam.
The interest in our face masks grew despite the WHO and the Dutch government's advice against wearing them. We truly believed in the advice of virologists on using face masks to help stop the spread of viruses. We hoped to offer protection to the community, bringing us a step closer to continuing life as usual. Furthermore, we discovered an opportunity to bring creativity and personality to the face masks, turning them into a fashion statement, taking them away from the sole purpose of protection.
On April 21st, we produced a limited edition of naturally dyed organic cotton masks in collaboration with Lucila Kenny. The 30 masks were dyed with the heartwood of lockwood trees which gave a beautiful purple colour. Within 48 hours, they were all sold out. Later, BYBROWN’s identity and equestrian inspiration were translated into a printed mask by artist Marnix Postma. The designs were screen printed at the AGA Lab in Amsterdam, adding craftsmanship and design value to our selection.
The month of May arrived with more features in magazines, to name a few, NRC Newspaper Magazine, thanks to Milou van Rossum and RTLnieuws.nl, thanks to Ingeborg van Lieshout who wrote an article called ‘The top 10 masks in The Netherlands’, which instantly lead to unforeseen exposure and increasing demand for face masks. Soon our production capacity couldn’t be maintained and we needed to upscale. Collaborating with our long-term manufacturing partner in Poland, who instantly started producing the face masks following our signature pattern.
On August 12th, Willem te Wierik from CS Digital Media approached us with an exciting project. CS Digital Media invited BYBROWN to be part of an experimental new way of advertising. The idea was to set up digital advertising screens in metro stations in Amsterdam and Rotterdam featuring BYBROWN in a special campaign showcasing face masks. This was a great opportunity to encourage the wearing of high-design face masks as a fashion statement.
Throughout the past 9 months, we've experienced days with only 2 orders and those with more than 200 orders. Making and selling the face masks has been a very interesting journey for us, one where we’ve seen the ebb and flow of demand in line with the changing COVID-19 measurements. One of the most interesting aspects is taking the process from product design to upscaling and marketing, which usually takes at least 6 months, in the time scale of 6 weeks.
It’s been an adventure that has shaped us as a brand and added yet another layer to BYBROWN. It is unsure whether this product will stay with us in the future, but BYBROWN will be here to offer our tailored protection.