Tea to China? British company sells pollution gear to Beijing

LONDON (Reuters) - The college gardens and leafy parks of Cambridge may seem a world away from the smog-choked streets of Beijing, but one company in the English university town is hoping that will be a selling point.

A man wearing a mask makes his way at a business district during a heavily polluted day in Beijing, China November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

In a reverse of the more traditional pattern of East-West trade, Cambridge Mask Company is making pollution masks in Britain and selling them to China, where such items are ubiquitous on Beijing’s streets.

In an interview with Reuters television, founder and CEO of the company Christopher Dobbing said he spotted a gap in the market because of “the Beijing cough”, a reaction to pollution familiar to many visitors.

The idea was to make quality British goods that the Chinese need - and on Tuesday, Beijing’s climate seemed to be playing straight into the company’s hands.

A blanket of humid, still air resulting in smog that is expected to shroud Beijing for at least three days triggered the capital’s first ever pollution “red alert”.

The Cambridge company is by no means the only one to produce masks for China, but Dobbing reckons he has a unique selling point.

“If you look to China they really like British products. It may sound silly but 160 million people watched the last season of Downton Abbey and so there’s just this natural affinity with British products and Britishness,” he said.

The company claims carbon filters, as used by the British military and sewn into the masks, eliminate 99 percent of viruses, bacteria, and pollution.

“The carbon material we use is about a 100 times more expensive than other carbon cloths that you could use. So it costs us a lot to make a mask, particularly in Britain,” Dobbing said.

“But as I say we get a really good combination of quality labor and quality materials that means we come out with a really good quality mask.”

At 22 pounds ($33), however, the masks are more than 10 times the price of disposable ones.

Writing by Jeremy Gaunt; Editing by Estelle Shirbon