FARGO – Face masks have become a branding opportunity.
For Brendan LaFrance, who owns Tailor Made Barber Studio at 2108 S. University Drive, custom logo masks actually became his main source of income when his business was shut down in March.
“About a week into the shutdown, I went and bought a sewing machine,” La France said. “We just got a $90 sewing machine. I sat for four hours, watching YouTube videos, learning how to sew.”
He’d never sewed before in his life.
His first mask didn’t fare so well, but LaFrance kept at it. Pretty soon he was able to make six cotton fabric masks in a day, using a pattern he found online.
“My wife has a vinyl dye cutter and heat press,” he said, “so she started putting the logos together and putting [them] on the masks.”
Word of mouth quickly spread.
At first, LaFrance said, they were just doing Tailor Made Barber Studio’s logo, but then people started asking for their own.
“It was crazy,” he said. “We were shipping a lot to California, Texas, and Florida.”
By the end of the shutdown he was making 30 masks per day. He and his wife, Leane, worked 12-hour shifts. They had to get creative – an elastic shortage had them using mask ties made out of shoestrings.
The orders didn’t stop coming.
“Toward the end, when everybody was starting to reopen, we started getting a bunch of bigger orders,” he said.
Border States Electric, Beyond Reality, even the city of West Fargo ordered from LaFrance. Plain masks cost $15, the logo masks $20 and up, depending on the size and complexity of the design.
He continues to make masks “on the side,” he said, now that the barber studio has reopened.
“Right now I have an order going out to Zumbrota, Minn.,” he said. “There’s a woman who owns a salon down there who has ordered several from us.”
Brittany Anton, who owns Shirts From Fargo at 303 Broadway, found her year-and-a-half old business also getting into custom logo masks.
“We make everything right in Fargo,” Anton said. “Our typical turnaround time is about a week or less.”
She can produce almost any mask required: sublimated, 3D, simple cotton. They can be patterned, with logos, or even photos of pets. There are no order minimums.
The demand for face masks has been very real, she said, and it’s turned out to be big business.
“Oh my goodness,” she said, “we’ve already done literally hundreds of masks for people.”
The nonprofit F5 Project, 1425 4th Ave. N., is one of those customers.
The $10 masks serve to promote F5’s mission of helping people transition out of prison, or any hardship, and get back on their feet, according to Director of Contract Development Ricky Pallay.
Getting F5’s name out there is vital post-quarantine, he said.
“For us, in our realm, especially right now probably more than any time, it’s more critical for people to know who is available to help,” Pallay said.
The subject of logo masks had come up before, he said, but when some businesses and state governments started requiring face masks, the notion became a reality.
“We’ve already ordered 200 masks,” he said.
At BNG Team, 3285 47th St. S., their promotions division has been devoting their time to taking logo mask orders, according to Kimberly Pigeon, BNG’s Director of Creativity.
“They’ve been coming in droves,” Pigeon said. “It’s been a main thing we’ve been doing.”
This wasn’t something the business solutions provider, a “one-stop shop” for helping small to midsize companies start from the “ground up,” had been doing prior to the pandemic.
“We’ve always had the ability to offer it,” Pigeon said, “but nobody cared.”
Now they do very much. BNG found it was needing masks, and so they knew other businesses were going to need them, too.
They offer a wide variety, Pigeon said, and many area businesses have snapped them up.
“We just had two orders come through,” she said, “one for 750 and one for 100.”
Sharon Akin, operations manager with Logo2Promo at 1346 3rd Ave. N., said they’re offering custom and logo masks for an important reason.
“We want to make [people] want to be able to wear these,” Akin said.
Logo2Promo does screen printing, embroidery, full-color dye sublimation, laser decoration, engraving, full-color print and cut vinyl, and much more.
“We’ve always done bandanas and neck gaiters, but face masks, that’s all pretty new,” she said.
The market sprang up a couple of months ago, she said, and now the Fargo-based business is producing “thousands” of custom face masks.
“We’ve got some in the works for the schools,” she said.
They’ll be selling those individually or in bulk. Schools masks cost $15 apiece, or $12 apiece for two or more.
For logo masks, she said a sublimated polyester is the way to go.
“Your mask will wear out before the print will,” she said.
Custom masks are more than just about branding, according to Akin.
“We’re currently living in a world where we’re taking away a lot of that face-to-face interaction,” she said. “I think it’s a good way to make it a little less medical-focused.”
It’s also clearly popular.
For LaFrance, the booming trend wasn’t just a great business opportunity, it was a much-needed means of survival.
“It became our only source of income,” LaFrance said. “It kept the bills paid and it worked.”