Imagine an air filtration mask that doesn’t make you look like a mysophobic Hazmat worker if you wear it all day. In fact, most people don’t notice it at all. It filters Beijing’s relentless PM2.5 particles, doesn’t fog up your glasses or make your face feel sticky, and won’t break your wallet. Well, I’m happy to say that Infipure’s invisible air mask could make all your dreams come true, and after a week of testing, I’m already a huge fan.
Less a mask than a discrete pair of noseplugs, Infipure’s daily disposable filters are assembled right here in Beijing. They’re currently sold on Taobao in packs of eight for about 22 RMB. They filter 99.3% of PM 2.5, a smidge lower than the popular Totobobo model’s 99.85%, but markedly better than the 3M N95 model’s 95%. But Infipure partner Francis Law says penetrance, the percentage of particles that get through the mask, isn’t the only factor consumers should take into consideration.
“When you do these test results, it’s all about flow rate—how fast you shoot the air into the material,” Law explains. “We looked at a lot of our competitors. They say they can filter up to 99 percent, but when you see the [result] they publish, they publish it at a slower flow rate. We want our test results to be more like breathing.”
Impressed with the concept and statistics, I took a couple boxes for a test drive. The mask is easy to insert into my nose and fits pretty snugly. My breathing wasn’t noticeably restricted. It feels comfortable, but I do get the recurring sensation that I have a booger that needs picking.
I’m very tall, so most people look up my nose involuntarily. That said, very few of them noticed I was wearing it until I told them so. It’s great for indoors when you don’t want to be the paranoid guy who wears the mask all the time but—let’s be honest—the air is probably nearly as bad as it is outside.
I handed a few of the samples out to some friends on a night out to the bars. For those of you who frequent Temple Bar near Gulou East, you’re probably familiar with your clothes and hair reeking of cigarette smoke by the time you finish your first beer. Infipure is tested and proven to filter out cigarette smoke, too. My friends and I noticed the difference. One of my less-than-sober compadres pulled me to the side and yelled over the music, “Dude, this is seriously adding years onto my life right now.”
After 12-hours of wearing a pair on a smoggy day, the filters are noticeably stained black and gray, which leads me to believe the seal is good and they are working. The three sizes are a welcome option. I have a huge schnoz that lifts most face masks off of my face, including Totobobo, thus ruining the seal and sending a jet of air into my tear ducts upon every exhale, impairing my vision while cycling through already precarious traffic. With Infipure, I just have to keep my mouth shut.
Infipure’s journey into the Chinese Market
Infipure created a custom material, called NoPM, that’s manufactured by a multinational company overseas. They sent sheets of it to a third-party agency in the US and a government agency in China for testing. When Infipure applied for the Chinese patent of their NoPM material, no one else had ever made a similar product. That means they had to write their own product standard, where, Law says, they kind of screwed up.
“We wrote a product standard that was tougher than it needed to be,” he says. “We wanted this badass product that no one could copy, or just make other people’s lives difficult, but it just made our lives more tricky.”
As a result, all the masks are assembled in the same sort of factory where Hazmat suits and other medical-grade equipment is made. They then have to be sent to another facility to be gamma-sterilized. Law says his team wants to increase production at a bigger factory further away from Beijing to cut costs, but finding a clean one that’s up to date on how patents work was a challenge.
“They’ve been in business for 20-some years, they’ve never signed a non-disclosure before,” Law says, referring to some factories that said they can’t control their workers’ high turnaround rate if one of them decides to go into business making knockoffs.
Infipure is slowly working towards a patent in the US. Law says the roughly one-year-long Chinese patent process was bureaucratic, but much easier and cheaper. Still, he says, “if someone chooses to copy us, we don’t know how enforceable it is.”
For now, Infipure only sells the product on Taobao, which Law says is low cost and only requires a good distributor. He hopes his product will be on the shelves of 7-11s and maybe some local pharmacies within a month. Selling through local retailers is the company’s current hurdle. Pharmacies in Beijing are extremely fragmented without a single predominant chain. Law says an SKU to sell at a 10-store pharmacy chain alone can cost 5,000 to 6,000 RMB. To sell at a supermaket like Carrefour can cost up 300,000 RMB, plus other fees.
In the future, Infipure hopes to add scents to its filters, create a carbon filter, and make a child-sized version if they can get around the “everything is a choking hazard” stipulation. They are also considering more healthcare-related products, including tap water filtration.