Something exciting is hiding behind Carrboro’s mask.
Ten years ago Chip Hoppin made a UNC-themed luchador mask for a friend who wanted to get on the jumbotron at a UNC-Duke basketball game. Today, he is CEO of Fanaticmasks, a company out of Carrboro that makes and sells sports-themed luchador masks, which he co-owns along with Mike Tyrell, a contractor in Chapel Hill, Mike Benson, owner of the Southern Rail in Carrboro and Alex Freeman, a student at Lenoir-Rhyne University.
“I started making them for my friends, but that started to get out of control,” Hoppin said. “At that point I realized so many people wanted these things, there had to be a way to make them on the mass level.”
The company is currently working on a Kickstarter campaign to help create an online platform with which customers can create completely unique masks.
The masks these days barely resemble Hoppin’s original stitch-laden, felt prototype. The owners take great pride in the quality of their masks and spent years searching for the right material, aiming for the wearer’s comfort.
“It’s a bra for your face,” said Benson. “You can be at a football game, it’s freezing cold outside, and your face is still warm. On a 80 to 90 degree day, you’re not sweating to death in the thing.”
The owners said a luchador mask is a good alternative to the facepaint popular among fans.
“If you don’t want to be the fan all game long, or you want to make out with your girlfriend and you don’t wanna get her all blue, just take the mask — put it in your pocket!” said Hoppin.
Another source of pride for the owners is the local manufacturing of the masks, all of which takes place in North Carolina The material for the masks is manufactured in Greensboro and then sewn together in Asheboro.
“This is one of the textile Meccas of North America, and it still kinda is,” said Hoppin.
Carrboro’s Alderman Sammy Slade said the company’s local focus is beneficial to the town.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “The new way of supporting economic development is support for local businesses.”
Hoppin, Benson and Freeman all graduated from Chapel Hill High and are huge Tar Heel fans. Though the company now also makes masks for other teams, the owners never take their Chapel Hill roots for granted.
“UNC has been huge for us,” said Hoppin. “There isn’t a better university to try and start something like this with.”
Benson said even former UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp asked where he could get a mask after hanging out with the owners.
“We gave him a mask,” said Benson. “He loved it.”
Many mask owners have worn their masks for varied reasons, like for surfing or skiing. Others have approached the company in search of a camouflage mask for duck hunting in lieu of camouflage facepaint, Hoppin said.
“You can throw it on, go in the duck field, take it off, walk in the house. No wash, no clean,” said Freeman.
The masks have given the owners the chance to meet celebrities like Jimmy Fallon, The Roots and Jimmy Kimmel. They also have been able to get backstage at concerts — after meeting Devo, they developed and produced a limited-time customized Devo mask for the band’s fans.
“You can’t not smile when you put one on,” Freeman said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.