Have money, will gasp in style

Mask is the new style statement in delhi

By Ananya Sengupta
  • Published 9.11.16

New Delhi, Nov. 8: While Delhi is coughing its lungs out, a fashion accessory has leaped out of the thick smog: respiratory masks.

In the smog-blanketed capital, masks in hues of hospital green and blue have now become so last year. This year, vibrant patterns and paisley prints are the colours to keep pollution at bay.

The most popular in the past week appeared to be Vogmask, a brand from California that has made a name for itself in Asia with its eight bright colours and patterns.

In Vogmask's Khan Market outlet in central Delhi, queues for its triple-filter mask stretched for miles today. The clientele included youngsters, foreigners and grandparents.

"Last year this time, we used to sell around 200 to 300 masks a day. Now we are selling around 1,000. We are running out of stock," said store manager Meena Thakur.

The store also sells masks designed by Manish Arora, which debuted in the Paris Fashion Week last year, the demand for which is high. She said the Arora masks go out of stock before the ordinary ones.

Thakur said the masks were designed to filter out most particulate matter, including the PM2.5 that is known to cause serious respiratory diseases. These masks were a big hit in China in 2014 when air pollution hit toxic levels.

Protection of the trendy kind comes at a price. The basic Vogmask mask costs Rs 1,800 a piece for children and goes up to Rs 2,200 for adults. Arora's five varieties - vivid butterfly, paisley and star prints, among others - cost Rs 2,500 each.

Are the affluent being blasé in the face of grave danger?

"I can't wear something that makes me look dowdy. I bought three varieties, so I can match them to my outfits. While I am concerned about the condition of the air in Delhi, there is no reason why I cannot protect myself stylishly," giggled Sunanda Jha, a student who bought one Arora mask in paisley prints and two others in basic colours.

Ordinary masks are available for Rs 90 to Rs 100 but they need to be changed every three days. The ones Jha bought have a shelf life of five months.

Such is the craze for one-upmanship over who has the better mask that people are sharing their masked faces on Twitter to show off their purchases.

"My mask is in purple and black and I got it from a local pharmacist. It costs Rs 2,000. I think it's a good investment as there is no point buying something cheap and compromising one's health. Also, whatever I wear should look good, just because there is pollution doesn't mean I cancel my social events," said entrepreneur Komal Arya.

Even the affordable masks are not easy to find. Small pharmacies are finding it difficult to meet the demand.

"While we sold around 2,000 masks in three months on average, we sold 5,000 pieces last week," said Vinod of Vinod Medical Stores in Gole Market.

Then there are those who don't want to stand in queue to get their masks. E-commerce giants Amazon, Snapdeal and Flipkart are stocking up to meet their demand.

Sumit Bedi, vice-president marketing with India Mart, India's largest online marketplace that assists manufacturers, suppliers and exporters to trade with each other, said e-tailers had made a killing this season.

"The demand for air purifiers has gone up five-fold from 100 enquiries a day to 500 enquiries, while the demand for anti-pollution masks has gone up to around 1,300 per day," he said.

For Preet of Preet Pharmacies in Khan Market, the Delhi smog has given an entry into a segment he hadn't even considered venturing into last year.

"I had zero sales last year because there was no demand. However, from November 3 this year, I have sold as many as 1,200 pollution masks that cost Rs 2,000 each. They come in different colours and people are excited about matching them with their outfits. For me, it means 100 per cent profit," he said.