What inspired you to create your brand?
Long before protective face wear was something most people were thinking about, we started O2TODAY to educate the public that poor air quality from pollution and viruses was a leading environmental health threat. In fact, the World Health Organization cites that 9 out of 10 people globally are breathing unhealthy air. In 2015, O2TODAY was founded to innovate the protective mask space and offer products designed specifically for use in urban and travel environments to help the public adopt face masks as a lifestyle health accessory. We also believed that just because a mask was safe, it didn’t mean it couldn’t also be stylish!
What is the meaning of your brand name?
O2TODAY is a reference to “O2” or Oxygen, which while only about 20% of the air we breathe, is vital to our life and health. The “TODAY” is to remind us that in modern society, the need for protection is a reality from the air in many environments but we believe in and are working towards a “tomorrow” where products like ours will be needed less. As part of that belief, we are the first protective mask brand that partnered with 1% For The Planet to contribute to efforts that will lead to a cleaner and healthier environment.
"We aren’t a fashion brand that makes masks; we are a mask manufacture that makes fashionable protective face wear – and there is a big difference!"
What makes your brand stand out from other brands?
It seems nowadays that anyone with a sewing machine is making fabric face-coverings, but our 5 years of experience and science-backed approach separate us on a number of levels. First, we use premium melt blown filter material sourced from the leading manufacturer of filtration for face masks, and we manufacture the finished filters in our own production facility in Salt Lake City, UT. Our masks are designed from over 4 years of customer feedback and $2 million in research and development investment. Our Designer, Marcel Wanders, is a world-renowned Creative who has designed for such iconic brands as Puma, Louis Vuitton, MAC Cosmetics, and Starbucks. We aren’t a fashion brand that makes masks; we are a mask manufacture that makes fashionable protective face wear – and there is a big difference!
What do you envision for the future of your brand?
We have embarked on an exciting pathway of working with other brands on collaborations to offer our premium reusable mask design and the US-backed science of our filter technology with their design input to launch exceptional and unique collections. Examples of that are our recent collaborations with LA-based Esports lifestyle brand, ULT Esports, and US military-spouse manufacturing company, R. Riveter. We aspire to reach as many people as we can with our message about safe and stylish protection, and especially that a mask without an effective nonwoven filter is one you should question the efficacy of – it is like having a bulletproof vest without Kevlar. Educating the public on what they should be wearing vs. putting anything over your face is crucial to us.
Where do you find inspiration for your brand?
We are inspired by health and nature. From the inception of our company, our internal motto has been “to empower healthy living through clean breathing.” That means getting outdoors and enjoying all the world has to offer without worrying about factors like pollutions, airborne germs, allergens, and other irritants in the air. Our team consists of some serious outdoors lovers, and we want to extend that love to our customers by offering products that mean they won’t be sidelined when air threats exist outside of their home.
What were some hurdles you had to overcome in your business?
There have been so many it is difficult to list them all here. I would say the largest hurdle has been timing. When we launched our brand in 2015, there was not yet large-scale global demand for safe and stylish protective masks. We were only one of a few US brands that were working to elevate what had been offered for decades and reinvent the face mask space, but adoption was low. Now we have the opposite problem which is due to the pandemic, and the fact that hundreds of cut & sew brands wanted to help as well as stay operational as essential companies during lockdown and quarantine periods, so the market has become flooded with “face coverings” and we are faced with the hurdle of educating the public that fabric masks without tested filters (and we could write a whole separate article around what makes an effective filter) don’t offer the same level of protection as our masks. There is so much that goes into the design of an effective mask, based on physics, structure, surface area, material science, etc. that it should not be a casual product that becomes an extension of a fashion brand like a snapback hat or a backpack in our opinion. The other largest hurdle we have faced has been finding the right manufacturing partners, which is why we ultimately opened our own factory in Salt Lake City to become as vertically integrated as a manufacturer as possible. That allows us to better control quality assurance, speed to market, and shorten supply chain which allows us to stay highly cost competitive and be shipping less globally, which is better for the environment…and cleaner air!
"It is incredibly rewarding to turn your passion into a consumer brand that can help and empower others, but it takes a level of dedication and persistence that will test even the most energetic and driven individuals."
What advice would you give to someone that is starting their own brand?
Get ready for a 12 round heavyweight boxing match! It is no easy journey to build your own brand and face the challenges that are inevitable with developing, manufacturing, and launching products. It is incredibly rewarding to turn your passion into a consumer brand that can help and empower others, but it takes a level of dedication and persistence that will test even the most energetic and driven individuals. Also, while important to have a point of view about your brand, be maniacal about listening to your customers and laser-focused on supplying what they need and flexing to always be improving and advancing your products accordingly.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer? Why or Why not?
While I have extensive experience in the fashion world from manufacturing my own brands to being a Luxury Goods executive at the LVMH group, design is something I never considered a specialty. That is why I partnered with world-famous Designer, Marcel Wanders for O2TODAY, and we are very fortunate to have him. We try very hard to let performance guide our designs, however, and then think of ways we can make people feel good about wearing our products beyond their functionality. With our strategy of working with other brands on collaborations, we now have the opportunity to work with a number of talented and visionary designers and extend our masks as a science-backed platform for their unique prints and additions.
Do you feel working in the fashion industry is different today than from when you started out? Why or why not?
Definitely. I started my career in Japan around 1999 and spent over a decade in leather goods and apparel in North Asia. At the time, fashion brands were almost obnoxious about putting their logos forward and shouting who they were through their products. Over the years, that has certainly changed as many customers prefer a more refined product that doesn’t have to be loud about the brand but focused on quality, performance, and the ethos behind the company that makes the products. Fashion items now oftentimes are looked to as a reflection of the lifestyle of the user, and so you have seen an explosion in sports and outdoor-related fashion that says to others “I care about my health and wellbeing and spending time outdoors” for example. Function, comfort, and simplicity has (for the most part) outpaced ornate, complex, over-designed products in every arena from footwear to ready to wear. I for one am excited to see that consumers are also asking more from the brands they support in terms of what they are doing for the environment, to support important social causes, and be as responsible as possible with material and manufacturing choices. It is an exciting time to be in the functional fashion space!
How did COVID-19 affect your business?
Obviously, our products exist as a protective measure for events like the COVID-19 pandemic as well as more common daily air threats in our environment, so the impact has been huge. For many stakeholders of our brand, it has helped us to define why for over 5 years we have been so passionate about our product category and helping the public prepare for moments such as now, so they would be ready with products that they can feel confident in wearing while staying safe. We have struggled to keep up with demand, but as part of that demand, we have been able to invest in our own US manufacturing facility which is something we wanted from the beginning – to be able to bring as much of our supply chain domestic as possible.