On December 21, 2019, I ordered an Off-White Black Arrows Mask for $50. Fashion retailer SSENSE had it on sale for half off the original retail price, which was too good a deal to pass on and immediately put it in impulse-buy territory in my mind.
Less than two weeks later, on December 31, I initiated a return for the item and shipped it back to where it came from. As much I love streetwear, and the silly accessories that come with it, taking part in this hypebeast trend was too extra, even for me. I tried the mask on, took a selfie to post on Instagram, and then decided I didn’t have a use for it.
Little did I know, however, that about three months later the whole world would be in the middle of a global pandemic. And if there was ever a time when I needed a face mask, well, it would be now. Sure, that Off-White Black Arrows Mask isn’t medical grade by any means, but it could at least offer a sense of protection against the COVID-19 germs floating around the streets of New York City, where I live.
After all, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently pointed out, it is recommended that people in the U.S. wear a mask when they leave their home to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus, even if that gear isn’t surgical quality.
But alas, I returned it, and now that same mask I once paid $50 for is priced for more than $370 on resale apps like StockX. Yes, $370. That’s just the one particular style, too, as there are other streetwear masks, including more from Off-White and other brands like Bape that are selling for anywhere between $200 to $700. Some of them are going for as much as nine times their original value.
Just a few months ago, many of these hypebeast masks — which have been a staple in Asian streetwear culture for years, long before the current pandemic — were selling for under their retail price at shops worldwide. But, as the need for face protection in the age of COVID-19 has surged, so too has demand for them. With that came the price gouging we’re seeing on StockX, eBay, and other sites. Capitalism at its finest.
As the need for face protection in the age of COVID-19 has surged, so too has demand for [masks].
The price hike for these streetwear masks is a striking contrast to what’s happening with the sneaker resale market, which has basically been in free fall since COVID-19 began to take a toll on the global economy. People need masks right now, not sneakers. Still, even though the Off-White or Bape masks weren’t designed to protect us against a virus, there has to be a moral question of making a profit from a terrible situation.
It’s clear resellers don’t care — we’ve seen what happened with N95 masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes when their supply started to run short. They’re just trying to make a buck at the expense of anything or anyone. But should platforms like StockX or eBay allow this kind of behavior from their sellers? StockX did not respond to Input’s request for comment; a statement from eBay has been added below.
It wasn’t long ago that a similar scenario took place in the resale space. Shortly after the passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant on January 26, the price of his sneakers, memorabilia, and other merchandise skyrocketed in the secondary market, including on StockX, with some shoes selling for thousands of dollars. The company did eventually make amends, announcing that it would be donating all proceeds from sales of Bryant-related products to the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, though that would only last for the first week following his death.
“The StockX marketplace is built on the principles of transparency and access. We strive to be an open market, where buyers and sellers around the world can connect and transact freely and fairly,” StockX said on January 28. “As is the case for any live marketplace, real-life events have ramifications on what people chose to buy and sell, and for how much.” This statement could easily be applied to what’s happening today, where masks have become as much of a necessity as hand sanitizer, toilet paper, or food.
You can certainly make the argument that no one is telling people to go out and buy yesterday’s corny hypebeast accessory, but these masks have become essential items and consumers’ wallets are going to be worse for it. Even cheap plastic masks are selling out everywhere, so these items are now, simply put, a luxury — whether they’re Off-White or not.
Thankfully, not everyone in streetwear and fashion is taking advantage. Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and a number of designers and entrepreneurs have all announced they’re making masks, face shields, and other crucial personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers on the frontlines of COVID-19. Meanwhile, indie retailers like Manor, based out of Phoenix, Arizona, have started selling stylish, reusable face masks and donating part of the proceeds to the Saint Mary’s Food Bank.
The Manor masks may not be as hyped as the ones from Off-White and Bape but think about how good you’re going to feel when you wear it and know you helped a good cause along the way. At the same time, if you’d rather spend a few hundred dollars to flex a logo while you’re keeping your face protected, well, only you can stop yourself from going to such lengths.
Update: After publication, an eBay spokesperson provided Input the following statement:
"Like so many companies, we have been closely monitoring the coronavirus pandemic as it continues to develop. As always, our first priority is to ensure the safety of our employees and customers around the world. eBay is taking significant measures to block or quickly remove items on our marketplace that make false health claims. We are making every effort to ensure that anyone who sells on our platform follows local laws and eBay policies."