Great speech, Brian May, but it was the geometric vulpine masks worn by anti-hunting protesters that stole the show at Westminster this week.
As David Cameron was forced into a climbdown on amendments to the foxhunting ban, pictures emerged of an anti-foxhunting rally outside Parliament. And never has a political protest looked so dramatic. Protesters in identical boxy, foxy masks set off suitably orange flares, and the entire spectacle bore more resemblance to a £50-a-ticket immersive theatre production than a ragtag political rally. Which, of course, makes it a roaring success.
These £4.50 cardboard masks, sold as downloadable templates via wintercroft.com, got the protesters and their placards into every newspaper and website, and Twitter was overrun by foxy-boxy faces. Not since V for Vendetta thrust plastic Guy Fawkes masks onto the faces of the Occupy protesters has a mask played such a pivotal political role.
Politics wasn't exactly the purpose that Steve Wintercroft had in mind for his animal masks, when he began designing and supplying them via craft website Etsy in 2013. "I made my first mask out of necessity," says the 37-year-old designer. "I'd been invited to a friend's fancy dress party, and I always found fancy dress a bit of a pain. Struggling for costume ideas and short of time, I raided the recycling bin and sat down with parcel tape, scissors and plenty of hot tea. An hour or so later, I'd made myself an animal mask."
Steve's geometric animal mask was such a hit at the party that he decided to make the templates available online. "My goal was to create a set of masks that could be built by anyone, using local materials, removing the need for mass manufacturing or shipping and with the minimum environmental impact," he says. "When it comes to fancy dress, masks are a bit of a cop out option – they're easy, but effective."
It turned out that affordable, on-demand geometric fox masks was exactly what the world was crying out for. The mask was an immediate hit, and Wintercroft masks (the templates of which are priced from £1 to £4.50) have now been used in fashion shoots and music videos, and are a popular accessory among festival-goers. Customers can now choose from a unicorn, a ram, a dragon, an owl – an entire The Wicker Man parade, although Steve's current favourite is a fish whose tail tickles the wearer's lower back. The appeal of these gorgeous, well-crafted, recyclable masks is immediately obvious. "Most mass-produced masks are plastic and really pretty nasty, " says Steve. "And good masks were very expensive. Our aim was to offer a product that was cheap, easily accessible, and beautiful."
They succeeded. Wintercroft is now a full-time job for Steve and his wife Marianne, who run the company from their home in Truro, and @Wintercroft has a cult following on Instagram, with more than 6,000 followers. "We're lucky in that many of our customers post pictures of themselves in the masks, so we can see how they're being used," says Steve. "We get a lot of messages from parents who say it gave them a reason to sit down with their kids and bond over a shared project, and this is really valuable. Our masks have been in kids' school plays, they've been rainy day projects for families, they're at festivals, in wedding photos, music videos and photoshoots." And now, political protests.
"It's incredible, really, and very humbling, to see people take a product that we've designed and put it to uses that we never imagined," he says. Not that Steve is apolitical, far from it; Wintercroft have worked with a number of animal charities. "A few months ago we did a campaign with Lush cosmetics, who put our fox masks in shop windows across the country to highlight animal welfare issues during the general election," he says. "The League Against Cruel Sports teamed up with Lush, and it developed from there."
In fact, the very reason Steve's party mask turned into a business proposition was because he was looking for a more eco-minded profession. "I'd been a surfboard shaper for 15 years, but it inevitably involves the use of a lot of petrochemicals," he says. "I was on the lookout for a more low-impact business."
And thrilling as it must be to see his masks on the front page of every newspaper, Steve insists that the credit belongs to the mask-wearers themselves. "Making the mask yourself gives every customer ownership over it, and they all go out and do their own thing. When you put a mask on, you change. It's an excuse to unleash a different part of your personality. And it's up to you what you do with it."Reuse content