As air pollution worsens, designers are targeting city dwellers in Europe and the United States with couture masks


This article titled “Air pollution masks – fashion's next statement?” was written by Morwenna Ferrier, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 14th February 2017 10.03 UTC

The intersect between fashion and practicality is not always the most compelling. But given that air pollution is the world’s largest single environmental health risk it seems inevitable they will come to influence each another.

Yesterday saw the launch of M90, an “urban breathing mask” created by the Swedish company Airinum and sold in more than 50 countries. Face masks are already a common sight in Asian countries, although the cheap washable cotton rectangles rarely perform well in tests. Surgical masks, the type usually worn by doctors, have tended to fare better – but are still largely ineffectual.

The market for pricier, more attractive masks has been growing steadily in the past few years. Sales are not notable but Freka, a British brand, had the monopoly for a while. And rightly so, given that they tapped into the trend for minimal sportswear, almost Céline-like in design, seeking to become more of a background accessory than anything stand-out.

Air Pollution Masks

Oxymoronic … the ‘neon camo’ M-90 air mask

Which sets Airinum apart. While the design is typically Scandinavian, these face masks are neon camo.

They aren’t the first luxe masks to have forayed into fashion. In the last few years, these have regularly appeared on the catwalk at Beijing fashion week, arguably being awarded the same gravitas as an It bag.

Chinese designer Wang Zhijun has also made headlines for upcycling old Adidas Yeezy Boosts, trainers designed by Kanye West, into masks. Like Airinum, he has used his designs as a platform for a conversation about the impact of air pollution.

A post shared by Zhijun Wang (@zhijunwang) on


Masks covered in the Burberry check (although they are not Burberry products) remain a common sight in Asian cities, in a bid to marry style with sensibility, even if they don’t work well. As to whether they’ll take off, affordability remains an issue. But if the aim is to market them in Europe and the US, where athleisure is king and vanity is key, perhaps this is the answer.

Related: ‘We had to sue': the five lawyers taking on China's authorities over smog

As for the fashion appraisal, trad camo is having a moment, particularly in menswear. But neon camo, nothing short of an eyesore, is unchartered territory. It’s also oxymoronic. But that’s the point: if the aim is to raise awareness of the problem, then it’s unlikely you’ll miss one of these on the street.

Protest has got good at co-opting accessories to make a statement – white bandanas to protest Trump, safety pins to declare an alignment with minorities. The mood here is slightly less political but, still, it makes you think. Which might be exactly what we need.

Guardian Cities is dedicating a week to investigating one of the worst preventable causes of death around the world: air pollution. Explore our coverage at The Air We Breathe and follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion

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PHOTO: One of Swedish startup Airinum’s air mask designs

This article titled “Air pollution masks – fashion's next statement?” was written by Morwenna Ferrier, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 14th February 2017 10.03 UTC

The intersect between fashion and practicality is not always the most compelling. But given that air pollution is the world’s largest single environmental health risk it seems inevitable they will come to influence each another.

Yesterday saw the launch of M90, an “urban breathing mask” created by the Swedish company Airinum and sold in more than 50 countries. Face masks are already a common sight in Asian countries, although the cheap washable cotton rectangles rarely perform well in tests. Surgical masks, the type usually worn by doctors, have tended to fare better – but are still largely ineffectual.