We asked 686 Founder and Creative Director Michael Akira West a few questions about the design and construction of the recently launched Archetype and Infinity Face Masks. Read what he has to say about the importance of the material choices, fit and innovation that 686 has brought to daily use face masks.
With so many companies making face masks, why do you find it important that 686 bring the Archetype and Infinity Face Masks to market?
We’ve been producing face masks for over 20 years in the Winter and Outdoor markets. Over the past few years, we’ve been exploring our own daily face mask designs internally, inspired by the social norm in many Asian countries of wearing a mask when you are feeling sick to protect others during allergy season. Specific to the Archetype and Infinity, we used our technical fabric knowledge to create a pair of products that we felt addressed the market with a technical perspective and allowed us to add our signature graphics to as well. We wanted to incorporate technology, graphics, fit and function into reusable products that would last. It took some time to conduct testing, source the proper fabrics and produce responsibly, but I am extremely proud of the final results. Our goal is to create purposeful products that solve problems and make a better user experience and I feel we have done that with each of these designs respectively.
686 currently makes two different face masks, the Archetype and the Infinity. Can you tell us about the differences between them?
Our two models have some similarities but are vastly different.
The 686 Archetype Face Mask:
The Archetype Face Mask is built for maximum coverage and long-wearing protection. We partnered with Swedish innovation company Polygiene® and utilized their innovative ViralOff finish on all the fabrics. ViralOff is an antimicrobial treatment applied to the inner and outer layers of each mask to protect the product from contamination. It also reduces the need to wash your mask until noticeably soiled. The Archetype was designed with a pre–curved fit and 4-point strap system that eliminates as many “air-gaps” as possible. It was important for us to minimize these “air–gaps“ that can form around the edges of the face masks in order to maximize the air that actually flows through the mask layers and ultimately has the opportunity to be filtered by the design. This strap system was also in direct response to first responders’ needs of straps that go around the head for long wearing comfort. This design removes the strain that the ear–loops on other designs may put on the ears during prolonged usage.
The 686 Infinity Face Mask:
The Infinity Face Mask is inspired by the traditional pleated daily face mask as we have come to know it, but heightened through design and material where possible. We innovated the materials by introducing anti-microbial Polyester-Spandex and Merino Wool blend. We inserted an adjustable internal metal strip for a customized fit across your nose bridge. We made sure the ear loops were as comfortable for prolonged wear as possible. We added a pocket that fits a PM2.5 filter if you want even more filtration, but will also fit a N95 or surgical mask. The added layers of fabric from the Infinity Face Mask helps to protect the surface of an N95 or surgical mask from moisture and other contamination which extends these masks’ lifespans.
Which mask do you prefer for different activities personally?
I use both masks regularly. They both will work throughout the daily range of activities, but because I have access to both, I usually choose to use them in different settings. When I want limited exposure on my face and would like maximum protection in larger public settings, then the Archetype is my go-to. The straps are very comfortable and adjust to my head, even if I wear a hat. I also like that I can drop the mask and straps around my neck when not in use. It keeps the mask close but not on my face. While I am constantly washing my hands and minimizing touching common surfaces, with the ViralOff finish, I know that if I touch my mask, the contamination will be minimized by the finish treatment. The Infinity is simple and easy to use for general settings like in the office or going to run errands at the store. It’s quick to put on and take off and super comfortable. Plus, three come in each pack so I can keep one in my car or hanging by the door for quick trips as well as keep them in rotation with my laundry.
What makes the 686 Archetype Face Masks stand out?
The multiple layers for different forms of protection and filtration and our Polygiene® ViralOff partnership are key components to this offering. We combined technical fabrications that have been proven in the outdoors with new technology to create something we are proud of. It was imperative in our design process that we create a mask that stays dry to the best of its abilities in order to maintain high air filtration. We brought out Merino Wool blend from our GLCR outerwear into the lining of the mask. Our Merino Wool blend is moisture-wicking, naturally hypoallergenic and contains natural antimicrobial properties. Our Poly Spandex outer layer minimizes moisture retention vs. common cotton masks that naturally attract and retain moisture. We added a Polyamide layer that we have never been used before in our design in order to achieve a bit of structure in the mask shape as well as extra filtration. In the end, the Archetype is a design that is packed full of technology, but outwardly can still be skinned with beautiful graphics and colors.
What is Polygiene® Viraloff and how does it work?
Polygiene® ViralOff is a special antimicrobial treatment applied to the inner and outer layers of each mask to protect the product from contamination. ViralOff is not intended to prevent disease. It is used for protection of the treated product.
ViralOff works by using silver ions to attract and deactivate microbes that land on the surface of a textile. ViralOff passes ISO18184:2019 testing. Presently the FDA does not have a testing protocol for approving health claims of fabric treatments. However, you can read more about the testing Polygiene has performed via their website. ViralOff is also safe against the skin as it does not interfere with the natural bacterial flora.
Why is the Archetype made of a 4-layer construction and what made it important to choose those materials?
Each layer’s material makeup is specific to its function. From external to nearest face, the layers go like this: The exterior layer is made up of a stretch Polyester Spandex material. The stretch aids in comfort and fit while the synthetic Poly-Spandex blend will absorb less water than natural fibers like cotton, resulting in better consistent filtration. The next layer in is made of Polyamide Nylon and is an ultra-thin reinforcing layer. This thin layer adds a bit of form to the mask shape, helping it not collapse when you inhale as well as providing extra filtration. The inside layers are both Merino Wool Blend which is naturally hypoallergenic, moisture wicking and antimicrobial. The two layers also include a pocket for an optional PM2.5 filter. The outer and inner layers are finished with Polygiene® ViralOff to help control contamination on your mask.
Can you explain how a 4-layer mask still remains breathable?
In order to be effective at protecting yourself and those around you, a face mask needs to be breathable. We wanted to provide as much filtration as possible but adding layers would have been counterproductive if it meant the air you were breathing in wasn’t passing though the fabric of the mask but was sneaking in through gaps at the mask’s edge. The four points of attachment across the head and face allow you to properly adjust the mask accordingly to your comfort. We used flat lycra straps to enable comfort and stretch options for different environments. Having 4 separate anchor points to secure the mask allows the wearer to customize the fit for their exact head shape. This means that they can ensure maximum protection by minimizing how much unfiltered air the wearer breathes in while also not creating a fit that’s so tight in spots it becomes uncomfortable. The goal really is to maximize performance without sacrificing comfort. Think of the Archetype as a fitted baseball hat that is formed with an articulated design that maximizes seal and comfort to offer a fit that you won’t feel the need to constantly adjust and can be comfortably worn over extended periods of time.
Is there anything special about the fit and what makes these masks so comfortable?
Comfort is key especially if this is part of your daily wardrobe. We took a similar approach to face masks as we would to any of our technical apparel – combine the right fabrics and fits to create comfort and protection. Stretch is a key component that has been incorporated throughout the fabrics. All of the fabrics are highly pliable to conform to your face but have enough rebound and body to ensure they don’t collapse onto your mouth as you breathe in. We also utilized the same Merino Wool blend fabric on the inner lining layer of both face masks that has been proven to be comfortable around the neck and face of our GLCR collection of jackets. This Merino Wool blend is naturally smooth, soft and hypoallergenic which aids in the next to skin comfort.
Where do you see the future of face masks?
I understand that people have their own personal beliefs about face masks, but I do believe that in some form face masks will be here for the near future – especially for those who travel. I see a future where face masks and other “protective products” are designed in a way that doesn’t make you look like you’re going into surgery nor into the battlefield. These products should look casual but contain hidden tech that provides protection and a confidence that the product works to protect you and those around you. This heightened aesthetic of protection is the same purposeful design concept I have applied to outerwear for over 25 years. Outerwear is designed to protect you from the elements, but it also allows you to create a fashion statement while wearing it. Whether it’s a waterproof jacket or a face mask or anything in the future, the ultimate goal is to make the product look good while functioning to the best of its ability.
What is 686 doing to help out during the global pandemic?
We are utilizing our resources and manufacturing capabilities to provide gear to those in need. We are working with organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs and other local organizations to provide face masks to children and adults in need. Another program I am excited to announce is that we are working with our outerwear factories to manufacturer a run of protective coveralls that will be donated to local frontline workers as well as those in the mountain towns that have provided us with so much over the years. In these times, it is especially important to remember that many of our mountain communities have small hospitals and we need to minimize the impact in these towns as much as possible so we can continue to enjoy the outdoor access that they provide.