27 Feb 2017
Mainlanders Opt for High-tech, High Fashion Anti-Smogwear
With the environmental problems plaguing cities across the mainland seen as unlikely to go away any time soon, many urban residents are now incorporating stylish and effective counter-pollution products into their everyday wardrobes.
With air pollution remaining a chronic problem in many mainland cities, demand for anti-smog products has inevitably continued to climb. As a consequence, a number of high-tech firms are now offering increasingly stylish and highly-segmented product ranges, all of which cater to the everyday concerns and preferences of many urban residents.
Over the winter, large parts of the mainland were shrouded in smog for much of the time. Even prior to that, pollution red alerts had been declared in a number of cities and provinces, including Beijing, Tianjin and Henan. Frequently, this resulted in the closure of primary and secondary schools, with residents advised to take personal measures to protect themselves and their families from any hazardous effects. Naturally, the persistence of this problem has a created a sustained demand for anti-smog products.
Over recent months, a host of new anti-smog products has been launched on the mainland. One of the first of this new generation of counter-pollution devices was the AirSport, a portable air purifier designed for use by athletes and sports enthusiasts.
Available via the JD.com e-commerce platform for about RMB1,000, the system comprises a face mask and a purifier. The AirSport supplies clean air courtesy of the kind of micro-positive pressure technology previously used in a variety of smart wearable products. The body of the device is fashioned from aircraft-grade aluminum alloy, giving it a total weight of just below 500 grams.
More recently, Xiaomi, the Beijing-headquartered electronics giant, raised RMB2.8 million in just two weeks via crowdfunding for its Cloth Pear Fresh Air Mask. Featuring a set of built-in air filters and a streamlined compact design, the mask is said to provide protection from 99% of PM2.5 particles. It comes with an inner filter consisting of four layers of N95 composite nano material, while the soft and close-fitting outer mask is made of polyester fibre.
Another contender emerged in mid-October last year, when Hangzhou Liaison Interactive Information Technology launched its portable air box. Featuring a high-efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) filter, this arm-mounted system offers up to eight hours of continuous use.
According to the marketing team behind one well-known brand in the environmental sector, their current strategy is to deliberately keep prices and profits low in a bid to educate and nurture the market. Speaking off the record, one member of the team said: "By giving consumers an improved product experience at an attractive price point, we hope to break into the mass market. In order to achieve this, we need to convince users to forsake their existing solutions and accept a new kind of product."
Outlining the purchase journey taken by many would-be users of anti-smog systems, Li Zheng, a Beijing-based digital products manager, said: "Invariably, when consumers look to make a purchase in this sector, they want to try out the product. Starting off with the most basic anti-smog mask, they are gradually willing to pay more and more until they find a product that meets their needs.
"In the case of newly launched masks, the key thing is to establish whether they can allow you to breathe more easily. Usually, people trial one or two relatively cheap models and then continue to use them if they prove to be effective."
According to a 2016 study of 3,000 mainland netizens aged between 20 and 49, conducted by Mintel, 83% of them owned masks, with more than 60% of respondents indicating that they were "very concerned" about PM2.5 levels. A separate study, undertaken by Euromonitor, showed that between 2010 and 2015, sales of air purifiers in China increased to 4.4 million units per annum, a 300% rise.
Segmentation and Smart Wearables
A recent study has shown that the personal anti-pollution products now available on the mainland increasingly utilise smart technology and frequently target distinct market segments. In the case of smart technology, this is now being incorporated into wearables in order to provide a new anti-smog facility.
A prime example here is the AirSport portable air purifier. Designed to be used by sports enthusiasts, it comes fitted with a Bluetooth module, allowing users to hold clear and free conversations while running. In effect, it is an app-controlled portable air box, with the system also providing real-time location-based information – including details on local smog levels – as well as filter cartridge status.
A mobile app can also be used in conjunction with the Quantum Shield, a smart anti-smog mask that was also the subject of a successful crowdfunding campaign. As well as providing real-time data on the local environment, it also offers a range of stimulating games designed to boost the mental and physical well-being of users.
According to one R&D operative, many such products come pre-loaded with a variety of smart modules, including heart-rate monitors, personalised fragrances and positive pressure fresh air supplies. Although dormant at present, many of these systems can be activated in order to meet future requirements. It is believed that such a policy not only maximises customer retention, but also smooths future upgrade paths.
With regard to segmentation, there is now a general acceptance that no single range of conventional air purifiers or anti-smog masks can meet all of the varied demands of consumers. This has seen many manufacturer take a more tailored approach to the sector, looking to super-serve certain demographics and specific markets.
This has resulted in, for example, the introduction of a range of models specifically targeting sports enthusiasts and younger users, as well as a number of bespoke applications geared towards particular environments, such as offices or cars. Even within relatively narrow categories, such as the outdoor sporting sector, there are now products that cater to very specific requirements, taking into account the different wind speeds encountered while jogging, running or cycling. The Cloth Pear Fresh Air Mask, for instance, comes with a choice of three air supply speeds, as well as a personalised air volume memory function.
Compact and Stylish
With many of this new range of high-tech products primarily aimed at middle class purchasers and young users, attractive streamlined designs are always at a premium. Xiaomi's new AirWear mask, for instance, was styled by a well-known American designer and materials specialist. As a result, the completed mask is distinguished by its unique leather finish and stylish look.
In the case of portable air purifiers, 'small in size, big in impact' is very much the mantra for most manufacturers, regardless of whether the product consists of a device and a mask or a mask with a separate air supply unit. In essence, the focus is always on achieving the perfect balance between comfort and effectiveness.
According to a number of market analysts, as the market for personal air purifiers matures, the demand for more personalised products will inevitably grow. As a sign of this, in a number of the medium to high-end commercial districts in some of the mainland's tier one cities, there are already boutiques that specialise in the more aesthetically-led environmental products.
Such stores stock, for instance, air filtration masks complete with lace and cotton collages, which enhance their looks without compromising their functionality. It is believed such counter-pollution couture will dominate the higher end of the market, a market that shows every sign of being around for a very long time to come.
Yuan Zhen, Special Correspondent, Beijing