This was originally published on Stuff.co.nz
Fashion designer Karen Walker has helped design a trendy air pollution face mask for Asian consumers struggling with ‘airpocalypse’.
Auckland mask maker Healthy Breath launched its first reusable mask, named Meo, on Wednesday.
The mask consists of a washable New Zealand wool filter made by Auckland manufacturer Lanaco, and eight interchangeable covers patterned with unisex designs by Walker.
Healthy Breath president Wei Gao said the product was created last year to combat the air pollution crisis common in the cities of China, India and South East Asia.
The company aimed to tap into the US$2 billion (NZ$2.8b) face mask industry in Asia, Gao said.
Healthy Breath director Kenneth Leong said it would advertise the product as New Zealand sourced and expected Asian consumer demand to grow quickly.
Manufacturing of the masks had started for export in two months, but an Asian retailer was yet to be found, Leong said.
The woollen filters would always be made in New Zealand regardless of how fast sales grew, Leong said.
World Health Organisation assistant director general Flavia Bustreo said polluted air killed about three million people each year globally, with South East Asia accounting for two million of those.
Leong said the popular surgical face masks used in Asia leaked, allowing polluted air was inhaled.
He said his mask had a competitive advantage in the crowded industry because it was practical and “beautiful”.
Walker said the mask was her first step into the health industry because she liked making every day products look good.
She said the collaboration would boost her brand in Asia.
Leong said the mask would be sold in a $79 pack that included four filters, one mask chassis and four interchangeable covers..
The Meo would compete in with other premium fashion face masks Totobobo and Respro.
Totobobo masks create a tight seal against the face to prevent polluted air leaking into the breathing compartment.
Leong said half of its 14 employees were based in Auckland and the other half in Xi’an in central China.
The company bought a significant stake in Lanaco last year.