Honor is the co-founder of AusAir, “the world’s first face mask with botanical properties” that blocks “97% of small airborne pollution and contagious airborne viruses”. It is a design that was developed in response to increasing levels of airborne toxicity, but which has found fresh relevance in light of environmental disasters like the Australian bush fires, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic. Herein lies the ethical dilemma of a product that thrives on crisis.
Recent events have seen face masks shunted into the spotlight of the Western media, with headlines highlighting a severe lack of stock and broken supply chains, but the masks have been ever present in other parts of the world for some time. In countries such as China, South Korea and Japan it is relatively common practice to wear a “courtesy mask” to limit the spread of germs, and they’re used even more widely as protection against air pollution – which the World Health Organization estimates causes 4.2 million deaths every year in predominantly low- or middle-income countries.
Brands such as AusAir have identified a real issue, then, but they’re also capitalising on a global market that is rapidly skewing to cater to the affluent. AusAir’s lookbook shows photographs of young models sporting the deep black, light grey and soft blush (pink) face masks while cycling, conducting business and relaxing. “If you’re wearing nice clothing, it’s a bit weird to be wearing a mask that is quite clunky and factory-like,” says Honor. The brand seeks to distinguish itself from “factory-like” options through “unique botanical benefits” – replaceable filters infused with Australian essential oils. These have been chosen based on “research suggesting that botanicals can combat some of the problems of air pollution,” explains Honor. “Lavender, for example, reduces stress.”
According to AusAir’s Kickstarter video, these filters transform the mask from a conventional product into an “experience”. Quite why staving off chronic respiratory diseases needs to be an experience is unclear, but there is undeniable demand for AusAir’s service. At the time of writing, the brand has exceeded its Kickstarter funding target more than 5,000 times over, raising in excess of $700,000. In an age of toxic air, surging bush fires and coronavirus, perhaps the least we can do for people is give them a hit of lavender.