How Cleo Davis-Urman Turned Medical-Grade Masks Into Must-Have Accessories

by Christie Grimm · November 24, 2020

    Early on in the pandemic, we couldn't help but swoon over how creatively busy Cleo Davis-Urman was keeping herself! Little did we know that in between all of her amazing art projects, gardening adventures and chic tablescapes, she was also creating a first-of-its-kind company!

    As Cleo's brilliant brand barrière would say, hindsight is so 2020. While the fashion industry sprang into action to sew their own stylish mask options, barrière has cracked the code on creating the chic meets safe face coverings everyone needs. Premium FDA / CE certified medical-grade face masks fashioned in an ever-growing assortment of fun prints. I'd bet just about anything you've seen someone annoyingly cool sporting one on Instagram!

    So what is the city's most fabulous mask expert's biggest pandemic pet peeve? Read below for our chat with Cleo on all things life in COVID!

    What was the most exciting thing you can remember doing before COVID?
    My husband and I took a spontaneous trip to St. Barths for our anniversary in January. We made no formal plans, and woke up each day ready for adventure and new experiences. 

    Besides missing my family, I miss the spontaneity of pre-COVID life. These days, any gatherings, travel, or activities require reservations and a bit of planning to ensure safety.

    What's been the most exciting thing you've done since?
    Starting a company! Learning about an entirely new market and creating a brand (everything from the logo and packaging to the website and product offering) that would resonate with customers during a particularly difficult time was an exciting challenge. Every day I’m excited to ship our products to new customers, hear their feedback, and find new and creative ways to connect. 

    How did you decide to get into the mask business?
    When the lockdown began, I started to create and sell fashionable (cloth) masks to friends and industry colleagues, donating the proceeds to local charities and healthcare organizations. While the demand for these stylish solutions was great, questions about the effectiveness of cloth masks prompted me to search for attractive medical-grade mask solutions. 

    The problem? They didn’t exist. Masks are obviously important now, but there are many benefits beyond COVID (i.e protection from seasonal flu, wildfires, and other environmental threats like smog and pollution). I see a future where a mask is like sunblock - once you know how much protection it can offer, it’s hard to imagine doing certain things without one. 

    How did you team up with your partner Alexa Adams?
    The whole story of our company, including how we “met,” is very 2020. I had been working on barrière, and was struggling with the production aspect of the business. Then, I read an article on BOF about the future of PPE. Alexa was quoted, and it sounded as if we were both trying to solve the same problem, and that she had the experience I lacked. It occurred to me that combining our different skill sets could bring barrière to life. 

    I slid into her Instagram DMs, and after one very socially distanced, but very lively, meeting in Cobble Hill Park, we became partners. About a million emails and Zooms later, here we are. The park meeting was the only time we’ve met in person, so I like to think we’re proof that anything is possible, even building a first-of-its-kind company, with determination and a good internet connection.

    What's your biggest mask pet peeve?
    When people complain about masks, or worse, refuse to wear them. The whole notion that wearing a mask is prohibitive, or that mask mandates violate our personal liberties, is outrageous in my opinion. But resistance to sound health policy may be the result of misinformation and an abundance of inferior mask products on the market. 

    We worked so hard to develop a face mask that provides all the benefits of a medical-grade product without any of the negatives. A mask with superior protection (98%) and excellent breathability, so you can exercise. A mask made sustainably from recycled and hypoallergenic materials suitable for sensitive skin, (no maskne!). A mask that gives customers the confidence they need to resume their routines safely. I truly believe that when people wear a mask like ours, they feel the difference and understand that masking is the key to living your life comfortably and safely. Science tells us that if 95% of Americans wear masks, we could save hundreds of thousands of lives. Nothing makes me happier than knowing barrière masks, and the enthusiastic and responsible customers who wear them, are helping to reach that goal.

    What's one thing everyone should know about choosing a mask?
    Not all face coverings are created equal! Just as society has become more knowledgeable about the kinds of food we eat, or the skincare products we use, it is important to be educated about protective products so we can make better decisions. 

    If you're going to wear a mask, wear one that offers as much protection as possible. New studies strongly corroborate the efficacy of medial-grade masks vs cloth face masks, stating that triple-layered surgical masks, like ours, are the top ranked protector against COVID-19, blocking 95% of viral aerosols (that's three times more than the average cloth mask!) 

    Which mask print do you wear the most?
    One of the best things about barrière is the range of prints we offer. There’s a print for every mood, outfit, or occasion. Lately I have been loving the Patchwork and Cherry prints, and I take a variety print 5-pack like the On Safari Pack with me everywhere so I have options if I feel like switching it up when I am on the go. 

    I am also obsessed with this Leopard Lovers 10-pack that we developed exclusively for Bergdorf Goodman. It is my go-to gift for the Holidays this year! 

    After how long should we be tossing our masks?
    FDA/CE guidelines say that a surgical mask should be worn up to 12 hours before being discarded, but depending on the wearer's activity level and lifestyle, it can be worn more or less. When I remove my mask I make sure to have clean hands and I store safely in our resealable packaging or a mask case before wearing it again. If I am wearing a mask for an extended period of time, on a plane, or for a sweaty exercise session, I would discard it sooner. But in most cases, a 5-pack of masks lasts me a month.

    What's been your favorite part of quarantine?
    Having time! It’s been a real luxury to have the time to explore my different interests and passions, and I haven’t taken a second for granted. From painting and starting a book club with friends, to volunteering for political campaigns, taking online classes, and mentoring an amazing designer, Kai Petty, through Raise Fashion, the silver lining of quarantine has been the ability to really invest in the people, interests, and causes I care about. 

    What's been your least favorite part of quarantine?
    Not being able to see the people I love has been the hardest part. Not being able to spend holidays or celebrate important life moments together, has been difficult for all of us (I have a baby niece I’m longing to meet!). But I am thankful for Zoom, shared photo streams, and Emily In Paris, which have made it easier to appreciate family, friends, and even travel, from the safety of my own home! 

    What are you most excited for next?
    This past year has really taught me to live in the moment and to take it one day at a time. While I am not making any grand plans for the future, I am looking forward to 2021 and all the possibilities this New Year will bring. Professionally, I am excited to reveal the new product categories we have been working on at barrière. But most importantly, I am excited and ready to embrace a kinder, safer and more tolerant country as we move ahead.

    [Photos courtesy Cleo Davis-Urman]