In Beijing, we don’t talk about the weather. We talk about the AQI (Air Quality Index), HEPA filters, wind directions, and face masks. Air pollution – China’s best known environmental threat – is reported to be related to 1.6 million premature deaths a year. It has become so ingrained in the lives of locals that it becomes a topic of small talk.
The battle against smog has become one of China’s promising industries. According to reports, Chinese online retailer JD.com sold about 15 million US-branded filtration masks and 110,000 air purifiers in just five days during a particularly bad stint of air pollution in December 2016.
Despite a wide selection of masks and falling prices in air filtration systems, people are complaining that the smog is making them poor. Many spare no expense in ensuring the health of themselves and their children by spending RMB 3,000 (USD 500) a year, if not more.
The anti-pollution mask market has proven to be a particularly fertile field in the smog economy. Here, we picked some of the most popular masks in China, as well as some promising newcomers.
Famed for its Post-its and Scotch tape, 3M was one of the first foreign companies that entered China, and here it has set up its largest R&D department outside of the United States. The American multinational giant is definitely the biggest anti-pollution mask provider in the country due to its reputation of high quality for low cost. In online stores, 3M disposable masks cost from RMB 2.50 up to RMB 30 a piece.
3M is also planning to expand its water purifier market as water safety is another great concern for Chinese citizens.
Honeywell is another well established American multinational and China is its main market outside of the United States. Much like 3M, Honeywell has built its popularity on low prices and reliable products. Their disposable masks range from as little as RMB 0.80 to RMB 20. Aside from masks, Honeywell also produces high-end air purifiers.
Unlike the two previous entrants, Totobobo entered the market as a startup specifically dedicated to pollution masks. In a recent interview with AllChinaTech, Totobobo founder Francis Chu created the weird alien-like masks to protect his children from Singapore’s SARS outbreak. What Totobobo lacks in aesthetics it compensates with a unique seal system which guarantees no leaks.
Totobobo has made its name entirely through word-of-mouth. The fact that last year the company saw a 30 percent increase in its China sales shows that consumers have recognized it as a quality product and are willing to pay for it. The Totobobo masks cost around RMB 200, while replacement filters are between RMB 120 and 200.
Respro’s masks range from RMB 200 to 600, while mask valves and filters cost between RMB 100 and 209 making them somewhat less accessible to ordinary consumers. Their primary customers are people who do not want smog to stop them from enjoying physical activity in the open.
The Vogmask is a true hipster product available in organic cotton fabric and “vegan leather,” which is basically petroleum. Vogmask founders Wendover and Marc Brown came up with the idea for the product after attending the famous Nevada art festival Burning Man. The masks come in a variety of patterns and colors suited for every occasion and style.
Vogmask launched its products in China in 2013, and since then it has partnered up with street-fashion brand Plastered 8 and a face and body painting company called Face Slap to promote their masks as fashion accessories. It has also hired Chinese reality television celebrity Huang Lei and his family to advertise its products. The price of one Vogmask is RMB 225, and has to be discarded once they reach their expiration date.
Respimask from Respilon is a newcomer to the Chinese market. It has quite a basic design, but boasts a unique nanofiber mechanical membrane. This Czech product also comes in a special edition for pregnant women which is a market experiencing constant growth in China. A Respimask with three filters is available for RMB 35 on online stores.
Many Chinese producers have come up with their own anti-pollution masks, but the lack of quality control has left consumers suspicious.The idMASK from Ealist Innovations is another market newcomer that hopes to increase the quality of locally produced masks. Much like Totobobo, it comes in an alien-like design and a foolproof anti-leakage system. IdMASK costs between RMB 199 and 359, while a box of filters can be bought for RMB 59 and 99, depending on the type.
MaiXingRen masks probably have the strangest design among those listed here. The mask only covers the nose making users look like a clown. In spite of that, the mask has enjoyed relative success since its launch in 2014. The product logic is that the shape covers the area around the nose which is difficult to seal off with most facial masks. The mask costs between RMB 138 and 387, while replacement filters can be bought for RMB 25.
(Top photo from Pixabay)