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Foreigners in New Delhi wearing face masks against air pollution.
AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
Healthy style.
POLLUTION CHIC

Delhi’s rich and beautiful are breathing clean air stylishly, with help from the Nevada desert

By Maria Thomas & Itika Sharma Punit

As Delhi remains enveloped in a toxic smog, some of the city’s residents are bearing the situation in style.

Over the past week, sales of respiratory masks have surged, with many locals even lining up for hours to stock up, wiping off offline and online supplies.

One of the most popular options this past week has been Vogmask, a brand from California that has made quite a name for itself in Asia with its bright colours and patterns—a far cry from the usual clinical blues and greens.

Vogmask is the brainchild of mother-son duo Wendover and Marc Brown who came up with the idea for the product after attending Burning Man, an arts festival organised in the Nevada desert, in 2011. The goal: keep sand at bay and look cool while doing so.

But, of course, the mask is supposed to be more than just a pretty accessory, even if its high-fashion designs have graced runways in Hong Kong and Paris. Made of microfibre, Vogmask is designed to filter out most particulate matter (PM), notably the notoriously unhealthy PM2.5 that is known to cause serious respiratory diseases. The combination of fashion and function made it a big hit in China in 2014, when air pollution hit deadly levels.

With Delhi now facing a similar situation, India seems to have become the company’s next hotspot.

Sold by Nirvana Being, which also sells air purifiers, Vogmask was brought to India by entrepreneur Jai Dhar Gupta in January 2015 and is now available online and at four stores in Delhi. Gupta brought it to India following his own struggle with breathing easy in the capital city.

A basic black Vogmask costs Rs1,800 ($27) and the price goes up to Rs2,800 for the “vegan leather” option. But without doubt, the real draw are the stylish variants by fashion designer Manish Arora that come in vivid butterfly, paisley, and star prints, among others. These designs made an appearance at the Paris Fashion Week last year and are now priced between Rs2,300 and Rs2,500 each.

That’s considerably more expensive than regular masks that usually cost under Rs100. Yet, clearly, it is a price that Delhi’s residents are willing to pay given the “gas chamber” conditions in India’s national capital.

Mask madness

Vogmask sales have skyrocketed in India of late; Nirvana Being has sold as many Vogmasks in the last week as it did in the whole of 2015. That reflects the overall increase in sale of pollution protection masks that coincides with Delhi’s toxic haze. In the last five days, Snapdeal, one of India’s biggest online retailers, has seen a 150% increase in the sale of such masks. While the company did not share specific data on Vogmasks, it did say that 90% of the sales were of branded masks, including ones made by Reckitt Benckiser and Honeywell, besides Vogmask.

Similarly, Amazon India has seen a six-fold jump in sales of masks during the same time, the company said, noting that most of the orders were coming from Delhi.

If anything, with this unanticipated spike in demand, there may soon be a supply shortage, according to both Gupta of Vogmask and Snapdeal.