Developing a Fabric Face Mask with all-day comfort

When we realized the severity of the novel coronavirus pandemic the team at FLS Banners was left feeling a bit helpless and without our normal sense of purpose.  We were no longer helping customers find solutions to their display needs and even if we had been it would have seemed out of place.  We wanted to help but we did not know how to at first.  It turns out the answer was in our company's heritage.  You see FLS Banners was originally founded as the Milwaukee Mask company in 1974.  

The idea of making fabric masks quickly bubbled up as a way we could help our local community and beyond. At our core, we are a group of people that like to make things that have a purpose.  In the case of fabric face masks, our purpose was to help remove the perceived stigma that would come with wearing one. 

We started by reviewing over a dozen different designs and researching what made a quality fabric used for a face mask.  The best research we found came from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.  They concluded that the fabric density was the most important characteristic.  They also mentioned that flannel was an effective second layer in the face mask. We also found research that suggested that blended fabrics were more effective than 100% cotton.  This data led us to select the brushed polyester fabric use in our contour fabric face masks.  It is a dense construction, polyester has natural wicking properties and the brushed texture mimics flannel.

The next key was fit. It did not take us long to realize that a one size fits all approach was not going to provide the best possible solution.  We knew our face mask was not going to an alternative to an N95 respirator.  That said, if health care workers were going to have to wear a fabric mask due to the extreme PPE shortages that were being reported in the nightly news, we wanted it to be the best one we could make.  This led us to develop 3 sizes of masks small, medium, and large. The sizes ensure that you can get a mask that fits snuggly and still allows you to communicate.  In general, we recommend Small for children and those will a small face.  Medium fits most teens and women,  Large fits most males and those of use with a larger head.  

Finally came how to secure the mask.  For this, we talked with nurses, doctors, and other users.  We wanted to focus on people that would have to wear a mask during work for an extended period of time.  We were immediately warned about the common ear loops you see on most masks.  Yes, these do appear to be convenient.  On the other hand, elastic straps offer little in the way of adjustability and quickly cause discomfort.  The feedback we received was to avoid earloops and instead utilize ties.  Ties allow a more secure fit, greater adjustability, and all-day comfort. As comments started to come we were elated with the over feedback.  If there was one area we could improve it was the ties. The new system had to be easy enough for children and people with a range of motion issue.  Our team started to review options and came up with a unique cord and slide system. The single cord also has the benefits of making removing our mask a simple process that does not require touching the mask. 

Our passion for making fabric face coverings that people will wear has driven us to make the best mask we can.  Our initial inspiration started with helping our front line workers.  This has evolved into ensuring everyone has the option for a face mask that fits great and helps them protect others around them.

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