Running a new style of face mask through China's smog

BEIJING, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Sick of running in China’s heavy smog with masks that didn’t quite fit, Beijing-based designer Wang Zhijun decided to make his own - using sneakers.

The trainer aficionado has been cutting up running shoes and turning them into smog masks for two years, seeking the right blend of style and lung protection. While the evidence they can afford true defence against air pollution would appear to be scant, Wang says they can help raise awareness of the problem.

No shoe is sacred, with Wang taking the knife to several pairs of limited edition trainers costing up to 5,000 yuan ($720).

“I was looking everywhere for a product that suited me,” Wang said.

“I wanted to see if I could design something for myself to use, something that other people would see, there’s a philosophy there, but it’s also a practical thing.”

Wang said he had received trainers from different sports brands and interest from people looking to showcase the designs but sales remained slow, suggesting not everyone was convinced a trainer could replace a conventional mask.

The designer said the interest had raised awareness and stirred debate around the causes of smog in China.

The country launched a “war on pollution” in 2014, naming and shaming companies for exceeding emission limits, but still problems persist.

Large parts of northern China, an industrial heartland, was shrouded in almost record levels of pollution this week, disrupting flights, traffic and shipping and closing factories and schools.

Residents in Beijing have also worn face masks to avoid the smog this week but not Wang’s designs.

“They don’t get it. They’ve never seen such a thing before... the first reaction is scepticism,” he said.

$1 = 6.9401 Chinese yuan renminbi Reporting by Reuters TV. Editing by Patrick Johnston