Two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka and her elder sister Mari are utilizing their talents for creative philanthropic work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In collaboration with UNICEF, the tennis players have designed and produced a limited-edition face mask that is now available for purchase, with the proceeds benefitting programming that assists disadvantaged youth in their native Japan.
“I was seeing everyone in the U.S. wearing the same medical mask, and I remember in Japan even before this whole situation happened, everyone was wearing masks and they were quite fashionable,” Naomi told Vogue magazine in an exclusive interview announcing the project.
“So I wanted to release a mask that wasn’t just for protection, but could also be used as a fashion statement.”
With the idea set in motion, Naomi employed the creative talents of elder sister Mari, who added: “The idea came from Naomi at the beginning. I just kind of helped her with the design... I’m not sure why it’s now becoming a political thing to not wear the mask—we should all be wearing them, and so it might as well be fashionable and cute."
Read more: Osaka, Garrison, Navratilova talk equality and activism
The design of the mask, which features a pair of cartoon animal eyes, was inspired by the sisters' love for animated cartoons, as well as their heritage on their mother's side.
“I remember when I was little when we would play tournaments in Tokyo, and every time we would go to Harajuku or Ginza or Shibuya. It was so cool to walk around and see everyone in so many different outfits that you wouldn’t necessarily see in America," Naomi added.
“Why wouldn’t you want a little animal on your thing so people can really understand how cute you truly are inside?”
I'm excited to share my sister & I designed this limited edition mask with proceeds benefiting @UNICEF’s COVID-19 relief efforts. It's important to protect yourself & others! The masks are three layers coated with 3XDRY BIO & washable up to 50 times: https://t.co/Njgk6bEJ5a pic.twitter.com/cGkLpzls2J— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) July 3, 2020
The charity initiative is the Osakas' latest foray into fashion and apparel design. In February, Naomi debuted her first collection at New York Fashion Week, which was designed in partnership with Hanako Maeda’s ADEAM fashion house, and with sketch design input from Mari.
Read more: Osaka shows off her collection at New York Fashion Week
“I’ve always really loved clothes. When me and Mari were younger, we used to have really long car rides to tournaments, and to pass the time, she would always draw," Naomi continued.
"I just looked at her drawing and thought, ‘Oh, that looks really fun,’ so I started to copy her, which I guess is what I did in tennis as well. But that’s what started everything.
“I feel like we’re both really passionate about both tennis and fashion. With tennis, we train really hard for it, and even though we take fashion very seriously as well, for me it feels like a whole different aspect of life, and I think about it in a different way.
"It’s relaxing not to have to go into fashion in such a super-serious way, and to feel really creative and free.”
All proceeds from the sales of the limited edition masks, which retail for US$10, are available at naomiosaka.com.