What are shoes, said Will.i.am, but protective equipment for the feet? We just forgot that this was their original purpose because shoes have become a form of self-expression. You couldn’t “go to a mall, restaurant, or plane without shoes” like you shouldn’t go to any of these places without a mask. “But you don’t have to tell anyone to wear shoes,” he said. So if you can use one mask for the same purpose (or multiple purposes), you win.
Will.i.am spoke about Zoom from his Los Angeles headquarters, a room that contains a soundstage, recording studio, his “fab lab” (where he makes prototypes) and now his Xupermask team.
Will.i.am came up with the idea for Xupermask in March of last year, shortly before his 45th birthday, when he was filming The Voice in the UK (he’s been a judge on the program for 10 years) and Europe began to lock itself out . “I was afraid that I would not be able to come to America, even if I could get on a plane,” he said. So he called his hardware team and asked them to get to work.
Since helping found Beats Electronics in 2006, he’s been immersed in and out of the technology. In 2014 he developed a fashion smartwatch called Pulseand in 2016 came with Fashion earbuds They could be worn around their necks like jewelry – Naomi Campbell and Kendall Jenner were ambassadors – but neither product really caught on (arguably, the entire wearables market isn’t exactly a rocket ship). He does not care. He loves research and development.
“I think L is learning, not loss,” he said.
However, he now has the power of Honeywell behind him and plans to collaborate with artists and other brands related to Xupermask. (He won’t name names, though he did talk about how much he loved the North Face and Gucci collaboration.) And he really, really doesn’t think masks are going to go away anytime soon. Not when recent history is a clue.
“SARS happened in Japan and Southeast Asia, and they got through it, and they are still wearing masks,” he said, suggesting that the same would happen in the west. Especially since masks also seemed to have helped limit cases of flu. Whatever happens on the ground, he definitely expects masks to be the new norm on airplanes. “I hear that,” he said.
He has to feel.