Modified masks a cut above for people with turbans and beards

Most years, Manmeet Kaur is kept busy by the huge number of weddings in Melbourne’s south Asian community.Key points:Designers have been creating alternative mask designs to cater for turbans, hijabs and beardsThe innovation solved a problem raised when Melbourne went into lockdownVictoria’s Sikh community is growing, with more than 50,000 membersHer Dandenong store in Melbourne’s south-east is filled with colourful fabrics and jewellery, but her most popular item in 2020 wasn’t saris or dresses — it was reusable masks.When Melbourne went into lockdown, Ms Kaur noticed her husband Harpreet struggling with regular ear loop masks because of his turban and long beard. She realised it wasn’t an isolated problem — there was a gaping hole in the mask market for the Sikh community.”The turban usually sits around your ears, and then you can’t put the mask, which has got ear loops, on,” she said. Harpreet Singh wears a face mask with long elastic straps and a larger pouch, to cater for his turban and beard.(ABC News: Kristian Silva)Ms Kaur’s simple redesign includes longer elastic straps that can fit around a turban or hijab.It is also handy for people with hearing aids or those who want to mask up and wear headphones.She also creates masks with a larger pouch to cater for those with long beards. Amarjit Kaur makes a face mask at the Libas by Perfect Scissors fabric shop in Dandenong.(ABC News: Kristian Silva)Since March, Ms Kaur estimates that she has made about 10,000 masks, about half of which are with modified designs.She said thousands of the masks had been donated to local council workers, police and people who came into her shop.There has also been demand from Sydney, Canberra and customers overseas.”I was working eight to 10 hours a day, and then I was working every day of the week because I was just donating [them] and people were looking forward to it,” she said.”This country has given me a lot. And this is the time when I can serve the community.”Sikh community’s rapid rise in AustraliaThe turban is a well-known symbol among Sikhs who practice “kesh”, the process of letting hair grow out.Ms Kaur’s creation comes at a time when her community is rapidly growing, with Sikhism now Australia’s fifth-largest religion.At the last census in 2016, there were more than 125,000 followers in Australia, with just under 53,000 in Victoria alone. Medical students Anika Yesmin (left), Monish Puri and Ayesha Barmare (front).(ABC News: Kristian Silva)Several other designers have also entered the market with mask designs to cater for culturally diverse communities.Monash University medical students Ayesha Barmare, Monish Puri and Anika Yesmin have created a mask design with head ties and an inner-surface flap to prevent glasses from fogging up.The students received funding and business mentoring support after winning a university start-up competition last year.Want more local news?We offer tailored front pages for local audiences in each state and territory. Find out how to opt in for more Victorian news.Read moreAfter teaming up with Richmond-based not-for-profit training organisation Carringbush, the trio expect their masks to be produced en masse from this week.”With our friends and family, those are the first people who we saw having these issues. That’s how we got the idea in the first place,” Ekta co-founder Ms Yesmin said.”As junior medical students, we’re not really in the workforce yet. We really wanted to do something to make a difference and I guess this was a small step towards doing that.”What you need to know about coronavirus:

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