Startup tackles Asia’s Air Pollution

Original article appeared on the NZ Business here


Healthy Breath worked with fashion design icon Karen Walker to create an anti-pollution mask aimed at Asian consumers facing the growing epidemic of air pollution. For this start-up it’s a case of right time, right product.

China’s ‘Airpocalypse’ is no small matter. It is reported as claiming more than one million lives per year and is reaching a level of national concern.

The popular trend of wearing standard surgical masks is no longer sufficient, says Kenneth Leong, director of Kiwi start-up Healthy Breath Ltd. “Pathogens, allergens and pollution can still seep through, rendering it ineffective.”

His company, which Leong co-founded with health products entrepreneur David Gao in Auckland in 2016, has developed the ground-breaking MEO anti-pollution face mask – a revolutionary design featuring a chassis that comes in several sizes; meaning the perfect fit and comfort for the end user.

Being ‘New Zealand made’ is something Leong and Gao say will resonate well with the Chinese market that appreciates New Zealand’s clean, green reputation as a country.

What is billed as “the world’s most innovative anti-pollution mask” not only comes with cutting-edge scientific credentials, but also a unique design advantage. Each mask comes with four Karen Walker-inspired interchangeable covers, along with four replaceable filters, supplied by premium New Zealand manufacturer Lanaco (formerly Texus Fibre).

“There are currently many rival masks on the market, but none with the functionality or design that MEO brings to the table,” explains Leong. “Collaborating with Karen Walker brings a substantial difference in premium design and appeal, something a booming middle class in Asia appreciates greatly.”

So what is the science and technology behind the masks? It’s all about the wool-blend filter, as David Gao explains.

“The unique biological properties of the wool filter mean our masks provide electrostatic filtration of the finest levels of atmospheric particulate matter, as well as protection from bacteria, while still being easy to breathe through.”

The wool-blend filters were developed with the help of wool science specialist Lanaco in this country, following many years of R&D, and utilising wool from sheep bred in the South Island’s Wanaka region.

The two founders of Healthy Breath have a track record of building businesses in Auckland, and plenty of experience in exporting New Zealand products around the world.

David says they’re committed to helping build the New Zealand economy and stimulating growth through innovation and smart international marketing.

He says they’ve created an end-to-end supply chain from breeding the right sheep to create the right filter – one they’re proud to deliver to consumers. Future R&D planned by the company will ultimately deliver strong returns to Kiwi sheep farmers, the manufacturing sector, and the New Zealand economy, he adds.

Asked whether the process of designing a mask is different to clothing, Karen Walker says it’s actually quite similar to designing a jacket or trouser. It’s all about form and function and problem solving, she explains.

Walker points out the many cities around the world that she frequently visits, which have poor air quality. She believes MEO buyers want, and deserve, to have fun with the mask’s functionality. It’s inevitable that there will be a need for this sort of product for many years to come, but there’s no need to put something on your face that’s boring, she says.


Towards a healthier world

The MEO retails for around $89 New Zealand dollars, and will be available in sizes to fit the entire family.

The vision for the mask is a bold one. Both founders of Healthy Breath agree that, with this new product, New Zealand wool will be instrumental in improving the health of millions of people across the planet.

The company is aiming to tap into the Chinese, Indian and wider Southeast-Asian markets, as well as other countries that are facing the detrimental effects of air pollution in major cities.

Asian consumers spend more than $2 billion on face masks annually, with double digit sales growth in the products each year – so the prospects for this Kiwi start-up look incredibly bright indeed.