Pollution's So Bad in China That Oxygen Masks Are Hitting the Runway

Fashionistas hoping to avoid inhaling smog might have a stylish solution, courtesy of a Chinese sportswear brand.

(Photo: Courtesy ChinaFashionWeek.org)

Nov 11, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Forget stylish handbags and spiky stilettos. Thanks to China’s lung-choking smog problem, a must-have accessory recently made its debut on the catwalk: the oxygen mask.

Never fear, fashionistas: These aren't the ugly surgical masks found in hospitals around the globe. In early November at Mercedes-Benz China Fashion Week in Beijing, models in the Qiaodan Yin Peng Sports Wear Collection show strutted down the runway wearing some seriously futuristic-looking respiratory devices. It’s unclear whether the masks, color coordinated to match the brand's sporty outfits, are being produced for sale or if they were simply a theatrical prop for the show, but assuming they work, residents of the capital could use them.

Air pollution is so bad in Beijing that last winter residents could only gaze on a fake-sun billboard after smog blocked the real one from view. In late October, days before the glitz and glamour of Fashion Week began, some runners in the Beijing International Marathon wore surgical masks to endure the 26.2-mile trek through the city.

Residents' worries over the health effects of inhaling sky-high levels of ambient particulate matter are well founded, according to the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study. Air pollution causes the premature deaths of 1.2 million Chinese per year, it found. Given the danger, it's no wonder that some corporations are handing over hazard pay to employees who move overseas to work in China.

The Chinese government has taken to pulling automobiles off the roads, and tech-savvy environmentalists have created ways to keep tabs on smoggy conditions. But given that China's industrial factories keep on spewing pollution into the air, perhaps these Qiaodan Yin Peng masks are the chic—and practical—wave of the future.