Cloth Masks and Lower TCO

June 22, 2020

Supermarkets, taxis, and other indoor public places in NYC require a mask to enter as mandated by the City and State

Back in April, I ordered a 6-pack of washable masks by Martin Greenfield, a local men's bespoke suit tailor from Brooklyn, New York.

My decision to invest in proper cloth masks was due to almost running out of my disposable masks, which I had been alternately reusing until they were close to disgusting state. Another big pull was how the masks looked so sleek and fashionable, even on the female models of the masks. As I've briefly mentioned, this company only made clothing for men and I was thrilled to see their well-tailored masks that were unisex.

Most importantly, Greenfield Clothiers was one of the local businesses that stepped up to the plate at the time when there was a massive shortage of masks for both New York healthcare staff and essential workers. Since they had to stop production of the usual suits, the company pivoted into washable cloth masks that they sell in packs of six. And for every pack sold, they would also donate 6 masks to essential workers who needed them the most.

Instead of me adding up to the number of people ordering surgical and N95 masks, I quickly ordered this. Since I received the masks in the mail, I have not looked back. These masks are now my staple whenever I go out.

Aside from the comfort level and wearability, these masks do a great job at not suffocating me. I wear this even when I cycle for hours with ease. I wore them in the WE ARE: Peaceful Music Protest and didn't have any issues chanting while marching-dancing. I also got compliments because they are not the usual consumer cloth masks one can get directly from essential stores/street vendors and online.

These masks can be bought on their website at $108 for 6 masks. The price seems hefty but for a piece of a necessary clothing item--a ticket to go inside most places right now, if you will--it's an easily justifiable one.

At that price, one mask works out to be priced at $9 each. (Read: $108 paid for 12 masks, because 6 goes to the buyer and the other 6 gets donated to essential workers) Right now, mass-produced disposable masks are at an average price of $0.50 per piece.

For the sake of date relativity: Today is June 22, 2020. This is important to establish the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of both cloth masks vs disposable masks.

At a conservative estimate that the pandemic will be in full swing until the end of the year and we would all be required to wear masks in public until then; from today until the end of the year, there's 192 days. Now, one might say "Hey that's not fair, I don't go out every day!" To which I'll respond with, "Sure, you don't. But it's not like a Covid-19 vaccine is sure to be safely on mass release by December 31 either.

For all intents and purposes of this non-scientific blog, let's assume that the wearer of the mask will go out every day until the year ends.

Cloth Masks (specifically from Greenfield Clothiers)

2 masks for 192 days = $18
6 masks for 192 days = $54

Disposable Masks
192 days x 0.50 = $96 

I have been alternately reusing and washing 2 masks since April. It's been two months now but I have not seen any signs of wear and tear. In terms of going out--even if I don't have anywhere to be, I make it to a point to walk/cycle outside for 30min to an hour just so I can get my fresh air and exercise. No matter how short the time I'll be outside, I never leave the house without my cloth mask.

No contest. The cloth masks win by a mile! And really, not just in TCO but also for the environment. Refraining from using disposable masks means less trash to throw away in the garbage can. A cloth mask not only saves money in the long run, it also ensures environmental sustainability. Imagine an entire city with no disposable mask waste. As a roll-over effect, there'd also be less demand for disposable masks for mass use. Healthcare workers will no longer have a disposable mask shortage and they can get protected at all times whenever they work. 

Supporting local businesses by patronising their goods: Pack of 6 masks from Greenfield Clothiers 

Any cloth mask will of course net a lower total cost of ownership over time, plus all of the other benefits stated above. As for its Unique Selling Point, I believe these ones I currently own have a higher level of durability versus some mass-produced imported cloth masks that are easily procurable on the streets right now. Unfortunately, I don't have solid proof on that claim. Subjectively though, I would say these masks can be worn with a suit and still not look out of place. For someone like me who's supposed to also go back into doing onsite client meetings once cities have fully reopened, I'd want to retain professionalism even in times of masked commute.

Lastly, it's been a long road but I now fully believe that there are certain material things that are built to last. Often times, they are not mass-produced. Likely, they are also not cheap and that's why we call it an 'investment.'

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