Here comes a mask that not only protects you from air pollution and swine flu viruses but also makes a style statement.
"It’s as good as being on a ventilator. It removes 99.87 of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) and also saves you from the danger of contracting swine flu (which has so far claimed over 700 lives across the country)," serial entrepreneur Jai Dhar Gupta, who introduced the Vogmask in India last month, told IANS.
"I imported the first consignment of 1,000 masks (from the US) in January and thought I could sell about 10,000 by the end of the year. As it happens, between Jan 5 and now, I have sold 10,000 pieces, all by word of mouth," the Wharton-educated Gupta added.
As usually happens in such cases, marketing of the mask grew out of an adversity.
"It was in May 2013 that I had returned (to New Delhi) from the Philippines with the flu. The next year was the most horrible because of the number of drugs being pumped into me. Some time in October 2014 I came across this mask online. I thought to myself if it can work in China (where it is manufactured), why not in India?
"I ordered eight for myself and my family. Within four to five weeks, my lungs had cleared. I exchanged five or six e-mails with Wendover Brown (the San Francisco-based co-founder of Vogmask) and she asked why not in India? The rest, as they say, is history," Gupta added.
"We have already signed up with W.H. Smith at T3 (Indira Gandhi International Airport) and will soon be expanding to 40 pharmacies like Guardian, SRL, Apollo and 98.4 across the country and also on Flipkart and in the Mumbai duty-free," he said.
Simply put, the mask comprises an outer layer of polyester microfibre printed with non-toxic vegetable-based inks. The middle layer is a N99 polypropylene filter. The final active carbon layer is derived from coconut shells. It also has a one-way exhale valve and two ear loops.
"Taking anti-allergy drugs to prevent one from the dangers of air pollution and swine flu is not the answer," Gupta said, lamenting that Indians "are not pro-active… they are reactive".
The extent of the problem can be gauged from the fact that an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 300+ is considered hazardous but that in the metros has been measured at 734 (Delhi), 244 (Chennai), 216 (Kolkata) and 153 (Mumbai).
"Paris once recorded an AQI of 180. A curfew was declared and schools were shut," Gupta said, warning that urban India "is heading for a huge healthcare bill".
Little wonder then that a number of foreign missions in the national capital have been making enquiries about the mask. "Expats are also buying them as a preventive measure," Gupta added.
Everything else apart, the mask is pretty versatile as it comes in five sizes from extra small for babies weighing four to ten kg to extra large for those weighing 90 kg-plus. Its cost ranges from Rs.1,800 to Rs.2,200.
"Depending on how much you wear it, the mask should last six months. In between, you can also wash the outer layer with running water," Gupta explained.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at [email protected])