The Shoreditch Mask Company started at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, as a home initiative to create and sell reusable masks and raise money for the NHS.
Now, designer and creative director of the brand, Tomi Borejszo, along with his co-founder John Cruse, have transformed the company into a full-blown fashion label.
“We were stuck at home like everyone else, but we are not the type of people to just lie on our asses and watch Netflix all day.
“What made our masks interesting is that they were different than the regular black or medical blue. Ours had featured patterns like florals with snakes on them, pop art, one for pride,” he says.“People liked them because they were reusable and that we were able to turn a mask into a fashion statement.”
During the lockdown, Borejszo and Cruse shared a flat together in Shoreditch, an area in East London that has come to inspire the brand’s debut clothing collection.
“I think I like Shoreditch specifically because it is a mix of everything. So you have like a real incredible history and classic London and Britishness. Then across the street, you’ll see psychedelic street art. There’s all these different groups of people across different ages which makes it so diverse and real.” he says.
The line released in September 2021 features a selection of hoodies, jackets and t-shirts that celebrate monumental moments and images from East End London.
Floral patterns that resemble the Columbia Road Flower Market, cartoons that capture streets like Brick Lane and the slogan ‘More light, more power’ – a historical motto in Shoreditch which is both really literal but also metaphorical in the community for creating more power to the people.
“Working as a community helped Shoreditch make it into the place it is today. So we wanted to feature something like that because we wanted to make our brand meaningful,” he says.
Despite the fact that he thinks Shoreditch is starting to become more gentrified, Borejszo can’t imagine living anywhere else at the moment.
Growing up in Canada and Hawaii, Borejszo’s cultural background has always been influenced by diverse backgrounds. It’s the same reason the 28-year-old now finds himself so connected to Shoreditch.
“I’ve always been a mix of different things. I used to box, and now I design clothes, and it’s not always the most natural progression. I used to play in a jazz band, and I played rugby, and I am mixed race. My family is quite diverse back home, and I’ve had this experience of growing up in different places. This is why I feel like I’m connected to Shoreditch because it encapsulates this whole thing,” he says.
In his early childhood, Borejszo describes growing up with a mother who’s "the type to wear high heels to a grocery store." She grew up in Europe as a Mediterranean and loved combining fashion with culture, always treating clothes as a form of self-expression.
“I remember when I was in kindergarten, all the kids were wearing t-shirts and sweatpants while my mom used to dress me up in a collared shirt with trousers and proper dress shoes, so I think that’s where my interest in fashion first started,” he says.
Despite his interest in the fashion world, Borejsz started his career in graphic design first in print, building websites, and creating social media content. Clothing design was treated as a hobby instead, and even doing it as a minor in university for costume/fashion design in theatre.
“At one point I started to do clothing, just trying some t-shirts and stuff just years ago. I started sending it to friends and asking what they think, and they thought it was really cool and encouraged me to get it made,” he says.
The career shift towards the fashion design did not come without its set of doubts. Working for an industry that has built itself a negative reputation for its harm on the environment and underpaying workers.
“When I first got interested in fashion and design, one of the things that freaked me out was going in to Oxford Street and seeing amounts of what my mother would call ‘rags’ all over the place. So I would think, if I start making clothes, am I just contributing to the problem in the fashion industry?” he says.
When it came to releasing their first collection for The Shoreditch Mask Company, this is something that Borejszo and Cruse treated with just as much importance as the quality of the designs. All clothes are made using sustainable materials and water-based dyes that don’t contaminate landfill soil with chemicals.
“We’re looking into bringing all our manufacturing into East London, so everything will be made locally to reduce our footprint. We also currently work with a company that has a reliable track record for traceability that ensures it is sweat shop free, water, free, and cotton that is PDA approved,” he says.
Until they are able to do that, Borejszo is currently working on designing the second clothing line for The Shoreditch Mask Company. This time it will focus on the sports culture in the UK.
“We’re going to use Bahai art deco-inspired patterns and focus on sport, but this time around motor sport like British racing. Specifically, a colour palette based off of Graham Hill and the legendary Lotus race car,” he says.
Borejszo himself is a huge sports fanatic and has a history of being involved in the rugby and boxing community, even fighting competitively at an international level.
“There’s a great boxing and rugby community in Shoreditch and many great fighters have come from East London,” he says. “This is why many of our hoodies have boxers on them that have meaningful lives like Jack Johnson who is a pioneer in the Black Lives Matter movement.”
This recurring theme of showcasing images with historical significance is something that will continue to impact the rest of Borejszo’s designs.
“The idea behind every collection is to be a celebration of something, like with the current one we’ve released. A celebration of East London, English culture, the arts, and sports,” he says.
Along with this upcoming collection, Borejszo says that The Shoreditch Mask Company will continue to feature its new collections in little pop-up shops around London. All the shopping will still be kept for online, so it’s more accessible to everyone.
“These little pop-up shows are nice to do once in a while to create an experience for everybody. We’ll have music playing in the background and nice decor to go with the collection. It’s a fun way to bring everyone together,” he says.