Cambridge Mask Company launching products to combat pollution in Far East
Ministry of Defence technology is being used by a Cambridge company to make face masks to protect customers in the Far East from pollution.
Cambridge Mask Company founder Christopher Dobbing says the masks, which are designed and made in Cambridge, filter almost 100% of gas and air pollution, which by anyone’s standards is a pretty decent ratio.
Christopher explained that he came up with the idea for the masks after moving to Beijing in 2012 to work as an education consultant.
“I felt like I was living in an airport smokers’ lounge,” he said. “I knew that I needed a respirator. After experimenting with other masks, I realised that in the long-run the only way I could get the mask I wanted was to design my own.”
Air pollution in Beijing is particularly bad, with the city’s score on the Air Quality Index having topped 500, which is 50 times the level deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. This could be in part why people from the north of China have a life expectancy that is five years less than their compatriots in the south of the country.
Christopher has been developing the mask for the last couple of years.
“It took a lot of research, but I managed to find a product made in the UK, and designed by the Ministry of Defence, which gives the level of protection I was looking for,” he said.
“After testing the material for suitability for use in a facemask, I was blown away by the results. Our mask filters nearly 100% of gas and particle-based air pollution. It is also treated so that it not only absorbs bacteria and viruses, but actually kills them outright.”
Having performed well in lab tests, the masks are now entering production. Available in a range of designs for adults and children, the target market is the fast-growing Chinese middle class.
The firm, which is based at the St John’s Innovation Centre, has attracted a lot of investment from the UK and China.
Christopher thinks the firm also has something else going for it: its Britishness.
“Seven hundred million e-commerce connected consumers in China are hungry for foreign-made quality products,” he added.
“When they see the ‘Made in Britain’ logo on our packaging, something clicks, and they get it.”
British-themed pollution masks spice up Beijing's streets
It’s time to ditch the clinical masks and add some British class
Beijing’s notorious smog cloud has (obviously) rendered it a thriving market for those in the mask-making industry. Walk into any 7/11 or supermarket, or past any street vendor and you’ll more than likely to see packs of flimsy medical masks on sale, offering people cheap solutions to help protect their lungs against the city’s unforgiving atmosphere.
Although practical(ish), these masks are relatively, well, ineffective – and they do very little for us when it comes to style. Over the last few years, more and more Beijingers have been ditching the hospital white and blue masks for something with a little more sparkle – if it’s going to become a permanent feature of our look, we may as well wear it with style.
This is where 26-year-old Cambridge graduate Christopher Dobbing comes in with his customised range of British-themed anti-pollution masks.
According to an article by The Telegraph, Dobbing launched Cambridge Mask Co., which combines high-tech breathing masks with British-themed designs. Sexy, right?
The masks, produced in the UK, use a filter invented by the British Ministry of Defence, originally developed for protection against chemical and nuclear warfare – best to keep all bases covered, we guess. Apparently, they even filter out over 99 percent of bacteria and viruses.
The mask’s main emphasis – besides providing a high-quality air filter, of course – seems to be on its British-ness. Dobbings states that ‘The Made in Britain mark is really valuable’ because ‘Chinese consumers really love British products’, naturally.
There are twelve British designs to choose from, including: ‘The Jack’; ‘The Churchill’ – a black mask that apparently takes inspiration from Churchill’s ‘plain, stylish and understated’ nature (we’re not convinced on that one); ‘The Prince George’ a regal mask covered with crowns; and ‘The Sherlock’ which features the legendary British detective’s pipe and deerstalker hat. Take a look at the full range here.
The masks are on the more expensive side at 215RMB – the price we pay for a beautiful mouth. The masks are available at Cambridge Mask Co.’s online shop and will be at a selection of hospitals and international stores soon.
Breath of fresh air
Name Christopher Dobbing
Company Cambridge Mask Co
Position Founder and CEO
Ambition To achieve first year revenues in the millions of dollars (weather dependent)
The names of the products sold by Christopher Dobbing’s company couldn’t be more English. You can choose from the Sherlock, the Austen, the Churchill, even the Prince George. Yet despite such familiar titles, these products aren’t designed with home buyers in mind – they are anti-pollution masks created speciﬁcally for the Chinese market.
Dobbing knows a thing or two about the power that British branding can lend to a new design. “Some 160 million people in China watched the last series of Downton Abbey,” he says. “When people see that a product is made in Britain, something just clicks and they understand that it is good quality.”
The idea for Cambridge Mask Co came to Dobbing when he was living in Beijing, combining work as an education consultant with his studies in Mandarin.
“Children were being sent out into playgrounds to exercise when the pollution in the air was dangerously high,” he says. “I did some research to try to ﬁnd a mask that I could recommend to the students. When I couldn’t ﬁnd one that I was happy with, I decided to make the masks myself.”
The entrepreneur returned to Britain where he created a new design. Using carbon technology developed by the Ministry of Defence, Dobbing was able to make a mask that ﬁlters out 99 per cent of particles, viruses and bacteria, and his success led to his setting up the company last year.
It may seem like a serendipitous story, but Dobbing, a Cambridge graduate, had China in his sights long before the idea for the masks was born.
“I studied modern Chinese politics at university and I started to understand the breadth of the opportunity that exists there,” he says. “I knew it was somewhere that I should go to if I wanted to be entrepreneurial.”
That initial piece of insight turned out to be inspired: having studied and lived in China is standing Dobbing in good stead with potential clients. “For anyone who is exporting, attempting to stay in Britain isn’t the best approach,” he says. “You’ve got to travel, meet people on the ground and understand the culture.
“One of the fundamental things for me was learning the language. I can meet potential clients or partners and make conversation – it helps them to understand that I’m here for the long run.”
Tea to China? British company sells pollution gear to Beijing
In a reverse of the more traditional pattern of East-West trade, Cambridge Mask Company is making pollution masks in Britain and selling them to China, where such items are ubiquitous on Beijing’s streets.
In an interview with Reuters television, founder and CEO of the company Christopher Dobbing said he spotted a gap in the market because of “the Beijing cough”, a reaction to pollution familiar to many visitors.
The idea was to make quality British goods that the Chinese need – and on Tuesday, Beijing’s climate seemed to be playing straight into the company’s hands.
A blanket of humid, still air resulting in smog that is expected to shroud Beijing for at least three days triggered the capital’s first ever pollution “red alert”.
The Cambridge company is by no means the only one to produce masks for China, but Dobbing reckons he has a unique selling point.
“If you look to China they really like British products. It may sound silly but 160 million people watched the last season of Downton Abbey and so there’s just this natural affinity with British products and Britishness,” he said.
The company claims carbon filters, as used by the British military and sewn into the masks, eliminate 99 percent of viruses, bacteria, and pollution.
“The carbon material we use is about a 100 times more expensive than other carbon cloths that you could use. So it costs us a lot to make a mask, particularly in Britain,” Dobbing said.
“But as I say we get a really good combination of quality labour and quality materials that means we come out with a really good quality mask.”
At 22 pounds, however, the masks are more than 10 times the price of disposable ones.
(Writing by Jeremy Gaunt; Editing by Estelle Shirbon)
Vehicles travel on the Guomao bridge (bottom L) as the Central Business District (CBD) area is seen amid heavy smog after the city issued its first ever ”red alert” for air pollution, in Beijing, China, December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer
Vehicles travel on the Guomao bridge (bottom L) as the Central Business District (CBD) area is seen amid heavy smog after the city issued its first ever ”red alert” for air pollution, in Beijing, China, December 8, 2015.
Young entrepreneur's British-made hi-tech masks hit the polluted streets of Beijing
A Cambridge graduate is waging a one-man battle against China’s air pollution problem
By Rebecca Burn-Callander, Enterprise Editor
A young British entrepreneur has developed a hi-tech mask for consumers in China, where air pollution has become a major public health issue for its 1.3bn residents.
Cambridge Mask Co, which was founded by 26-year-old Cambridge graduate Christopher Dobbings a year ago, is about to send its first shipment of masks to Beijing from its north of England manufacturer.
Priced at 215 yuan (£22), the masks will be sold throughout Beijing in international stores and hospitals but the majority of orders will be online, according to Mr Dobbings. “There are 700m people connected to e-commerce markets there so the opportunity is incredible,” he said.
The mask, which complies with stringent European air filtration standards, uses technology under licence from a Ministry of Defence spin-out.
The start-up is forecasting first-year revenues of millions of dollars.
Air pollution is a major public health problem throughout Asia. According to the US Academy of Science, the average resident of northern China will live 5.5 years less than a resident of southern China, mainly due to the poor air quality.
Greenpeace recently released figures showing that Chinese people take 141m sick days a year because of pollution. The Chinese government has pledged to spend 11.55bn yuan (£1.2bn) on environmental improvements but China will not feel the effects for years.
After cracking the Chinese market, Cambridge Mask Co will start exporting to India. More than 80 people in Delhi die daily from the effects of air pollution, according to the World Health Organisation.
Mr Dobbings decided to launch Cambridge Mask Co after working in Beijing as an education consultant. “I would ask young people about the greatest challenge they faced and time after time it was air pollution,” he said. “When I looked for a mask online that I could recommend to them, I couldn’t find anything up to a high standard of filtration.”
Creating the design was challenging, as the mask has to be flush to the face to prevent pollutants creeping in around the edges.
“Designing the nose clip so that it fit both Asian and Western noses was especially difficult,” Mr Dobbings said.
The start-up secured a round of finance earlier this year worth “hundreds of thousands” from a consortium of angel investors in Beijing, as well as his parents, to fund the development of the mask. Mr Dobbings still retains a majority stake.
Mr Dobbings is capitalising on the Made in Britain mark to accelerate sales. There are five sizes of mask available and all come in 12 British-themed patterns, such as the Churchill and the Austin.
“Chinese consumers really love British products,” said Mr Dobbings. “160m Chinese watched the last season of Downton Abbey. The Made in Britain mark is really valuable.”