When Essex-based Jewish businessman Adam Freeman saw that masks were going to be part of our lives for months to come, he hit on an idea: to modify the vending machines that normally dispense cold drinks and snacks and fill them with fashion-forward masks.
Mr Freeman, 42, who lives in Abridge with his wife and three children, launched the first Vendamask outside the Mace convenience store on Brook Parade in Chigwell on May 10. The machine uses contactless technology.
The venture comes on the back of his online retail business which sells masks in a variety of fabrics, from skulls-and-roses to leopard print.
The masks, which are 100 per cent cotton, are not for medical use and will set shoppers back from £5 to £8. They can, however, be customised to feature a favourite band or football team.
Mr Freeman says his machine has consistently been selling out its capacity of 180 masks and has to be regularly restocked. He has now had dozens of orders for the machine, including one “in a major Regent Street store”, and another outside Loughton’s Central Line station. In the past week, there have also been queries from schools, football clubs and even an air ambulance service.
The idea came from Mr Freeman’s own nervousness about catching Covid-19. “I wouldn’t say I was Corona-phobic, but the masks on Amazon took two weeks to come,” he said. “I want mine to be accessible and to help people return to work. Surgical masks freak me out.”
Mr Freeman already gives five per cent of his finance company’s revenue to Lenderhand, his charity which buys meals for frontline NHS staff in hospitals such as the Royal London and Whipps Cross. He has pledged to donate 10 per cent of his profits.
Mr Freeman left Ilford County High School at 17, before spending two years working as a trainee bond broker. In 1999, he set up his first company, supplying mobile phone content. He now runs Mr Lender, a finance company in Debden, which employs 180 people.