June 26, 2020 at 13:41 JST
A man reacts as a health worker collects nasal swab samples from him during a mass test for the new coronavirus at a market in Jakarta on June 25. (AP Photo)
JAKARTA/SHAH ALAM, Malaysia--With no sign of the global coronavirus threat easing anytime soon, protective masks are fast becoming fashion accessories for Indonesians and Malaysians keen to add some style and humor to healthwear essentials.
Bespoke masks are catching on in Indonesia, with customers ordering designs with their own faces printed on reusable neoprene material, some with smiling faces, or big red lips, like the one made for 46-year-old Heni Kusmijati.
“When people see us, they seem to be wondering why we are smiling and laughing,” he said.
A Jakarta print shop added masks to its services after its sales slumped due to the coronavirus, which has infected more than 50,000 Indonesians and killed 2,620.
Customers place orders online and upload their pictures. Masks take 30 minutes to produce and each cost 50,000 rupiah ($3.50 or 375 yen), income that has kept Nicholas Septian Sugandi’s business afloat.
“At the beginning, we were skeptical,” he said of making masks. “But later, the demand surged, and it helps us to recover the business loss.”
There are similar ideas around Southeast Asia, like an out-of-work Filipino special effects artist now making horror masks, and a Thai single mother who designs face shields with prints of cartoon and movie characters.
Batik designs are popular in Malaysia, where mask-wearing is not mandatory but is often requested by business establishments. Malaysia has reported nearly 8,600 COVID-19 cases and 121 deaths.
Malaysian textile designer Hafiz Drahman has masks made from soft cotton that include optional pockets for adding filters, crafted from his stocks of cloth decorated using wax and dye, an ancient tradition.
“I began to see a new opportunity in making batik face masks because at that time, we were instructed to wear face masks for personal safety,” Hafiz said in his workshop in Shah Alam city.
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