The Margin: Baby Yoda, Batman and Billie Eilish face masks — companies look to make social distancing more fun for families

These masks help make social distancing a little less scary.

Protective face coverings have been hard to come by online since panic buyers and some opportunistic resellers snapped up surgical face masks in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. But now entertainment companies like Disney DIS, -2.95% and the AT&T-owned T, -2.11% Warner Bros., sports leagues like the NBA and NFL, and fashion designers like Christian Siriano and Stacy Bendet are pivoting to produce masks to help people follow the CDC’s updated guidelines to wear cloth face coverings in public to slow the spread of COVID-19.

And many of these brands are also embracing licensing opportunities by putting their signature characters and sports teams on their protective wraps.

The Walt Disney Co. is rolling out non-medical, reusable masks featuring “Star Wars,” Marvel, Disney and Pixar characters, which are now available for preorder online. The $19.99 four-packs come in small, medium and large sizes, and feature beloved figures like The Child, aka “Baby Yoda,” from its breakout Disney+ hit “The Mandalorian,” as well as icons Mickey and Minnie Mouse. There’s also Anna and Elsa from “Frozen,” some “Avengers” superheroes like the Hulk, and Winnie the Pooh. They should ship in June.

“We realize this is a challenging time for families and wearing any type of mask can be daunting,” said Edward Park, senior vice president, Disney store and shopDisney, in a statement announcing the House of Mouse’s new face masks on Thursday. “Our hope is that Disney’s cloth face masks featuring some of our most beloved characters will provide comfort to the families, fans and communities that are so important to us.”

Disney’s face masks feature Marvel characters like the Avengers.

Disney

Disney is also giving one million cloth face masks to children and families in underserved communities across the U.S., and donating up to $1 million in profits from the U.S. sales of its cloth face masks to MedShare, which delivers medical supplies to communities in need, through Sept. 30. Indeed, many mask makers are donating all or part of their proceeds to COVID-19 relief efforts, as well, and/or handing out masks to first responders or to vulnerable communities.

Licensing company Trevco, which launched the new subscription-based face mask service MaskClub last month, has partnered with Warner Bros. and Sanrio SNROF, -1.18% to produce masks that boast the Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman logos and cuddly Hello Kitty characters, as well as Hasbro HAS, -4.97% properties like the Care Bears and My Little Pony. Single masks run $13.99 apiece, or a $9.99 monthly subscription mails out a mask a month. And for each mask purchased, MaskClub gives a mask to a first responder.

“These are confusing times. We want to help families make the situation a little better, and hopefully brighter, by featuring beloved brands that resonate with children and making the act of mask wearing less intimidating,” founder Trevor George wrote in a statement. “By outfitting the whole household, children will hopefully find the act of mask wearing less scary when seeing their parents wear it.”

Related: Pandemics affect everyone: What’s this one doing to the kids?

The major sports leagues got into the masks game early on, after teaming up with the e-commerce provider Fanatics. The NBA and WNBA began selling masks featuring the logos of all 30 NBA and 12 WNBA teams on April 17. Single masks run $14.99, and three packs are $24.99, and they are expected to begin shipping on May 21. All proceeds from these masks sales will benefit Feeding America in the U.S. and Second Harvest in Canada.

The NFL is also selling masks sporting the logos of its 32 teams for $14.99 apiece or three-packs for $24.99, with proceeds benefiting the CDC Foundation. They’re expected to ship June 11. The NHL is hawking three-packs of masks representing its 31 teams for $24.99, with proceeds being handed over to Feeding America and Food Banks Canada. And Major League Soccer is selling individual $14.99 masks representing its 26 teams, expected to ship May 8, with sales benefiting Feeding America and Food Banks Canada.

Many bands and musicians are also lending their logos and likenesses to protective face masks. The “We Got You Covered” collection from Vivendi’s VIVEF, -3.47% Universal Music Group includes masks with Billie Eilish’s green man, the Rolling Stones’ iconic lick logo, Ariana Grande’s teardrop, Bob Marley’s likeness, and more. Net proceeds from the $15 masks benefit MusiCares, the charity which supports the music community in tough times, including the current pandemic.

While fashionable face masks may sound frivolous, facial coverings are poised to become essential gear as the pandemic continues to drag on, with a report released Thursday warning that the COVID-19 outbreak could last for up to two more years and infect 60% to 70% of the population. Airlines such as Southwest LUV, -6.73%, American AAL, -10.86% and Alaska Air ALK, -7.90% now require passengers to wear masks on their flights. States like Georgia that are reopening already also have temperature checks and face masks as prerequisites for frequenting salons and other businesses again.

Related:‘It’s something we’re going to have to get used to.’ How some Georgia businesses are reopening, one temperature check at a time

So wearing a mask sporting a familiar character, a favorite team or a pleasing pattern can take some of the fear and unease away from having cover up every time one goes outside. Playful masks also allow people to express themselves when others can’t clearly see their facial expressions.

After “Project Runway” winner turned Payless and Lane Bryant ASNA, -0.69% designer Christian Siriano heard New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reveal in a March presser that medical workers were suffering a dire mask shortage, he volunteered to put his studio to work making masks. He and his seamstresses are now producing upwards of 7,000 masks a week, the Washington Post reported. But he’s also taken to posting some haute couture takes on the protective gear — such as masks made of pearls, ribbons and beads — for some “much needed glamour,” he wrote.

“If you have to wear them maybe they can be fabulous?!” he added. “Who knows what the future will bring.

Stacey Bendet’s Alice + Olivia shared a similar point-of-view on its Instagram FB, -1.23% page, noting, “For the foreseeable future we must all be masked,” before playing up its “fun, sustainable, reusable” masks crafted from excess fabric from the brand’s other designs. For every mask sold, Alice + Olivia will donate a mask to hospitals and communities in need, the company said. The masks run $10 to $12.95 apiece, and most are already sold out. This one was still available at press time.

Forever 21 is also offering a line of $5 printed face masks, which quickly sold out, but should be re-stocked sometime in May. It partnered with Family Promise to donate non-medical face masks to low-income families, and for every mask purchased, it will donate another mask to the charity organization. And Etsy ETSY, -1.72% is full of sellers making and selling fabric masks, with many starting at around $10 apiece.

It’s a win-win for these fashion brands and entertainment licenses: they’re earning goodwill by giving back to the community. But they’re also drumming up business at a time when retailers are taking a hit as shoppers shelter in place, and leagues like the NBA have had to cancel their spring seasons. What’s more, consumers are paying to walk around advertising a brand’s logo or character right on their faces.

And Women’s Wear Daily has noticed that social media engagement spikes when a fashion designer reveals he or she is making masks. Data and analytics firm ListenFirst looked at the average number of responses brands received when they posted about face masks on Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler, Twitter TWTR, -2.49% and Alphabet-owned GOOG, -2.10% YouTube between March 16 and April 16, including likes, shares, comments and retweets. And the response was massive. And brands saw 73.2% more responses on coronavirus-related social media posts mentioning face masks than those that didn’t. Siriano received an average of 36,655 responses to each of his 49 posts about making face masks, for example. Louis Vuitton drew the most, garnering 185,595 responses on average to each of its five posts around face masks.

For those who don’t have the money to spend on name-brand masks, there are plenty of online tutorials to make your own at home — including this hack for folding a T-shirt into a balaclava in 30 seconds, no elastic required.

Here’s another no-sew mask that can be made using a bed sheet.

And here are the best materials for crafting your own masks.