Cities like Kathmandu are fast sinking under the weight of air pollution and anti-pollution masks have found themselves on the frontline in the battle to make people breathe better.
--BY MUNA SUNUWAR
Tashi Gyalzen Sherpa, founder of Metro-Mask had to travel a lot everyday visiting stores in different locations around the polluted city of Kathmandu when he was working for Anta, a sportswear franchise from China. Since he suffered from everyday dust and pollution while on road and indoors, he searched for a proper anti-pollution mask in every possible store to combat his allergies todust and pollution. Unable to find a suitable mask for daily use, he decided to make one himself. After about six months of research, he gathered the information, looked through the designs and materials used in the best masks around the world, and, in the process, founded the company Metro-Mask and registered it in 2014. The company then introduced Nepal’s first high-tech anti-pollution mask in the market in 2015.
Contribution to Public Health
Anti-pollution face masks have become essential for Nepalis living in cities with high air pollution like Kathmandu. Metro Mask’s motto is to raise awareness about air pollution and to provide hi-tech anti-pollution mask as a personal solution to protect people from air pollution. According to Sherpa, someone who purchases surgical masks or general cotton masks spends almost more than double the amount of money in a year than someone who buys a Metro-Mask that provides a much better protection against air pollution. “One can immediately feel the difference after using our masks. We have hundreds of happy customers who have sent us messages thanking us and how it has helped them breathe clean again. Spending Rs 1,500on one Metro-Mask is worth the investment. Our new Urban mask can last for a year if not more even when used every day and if taken good care,” he adds.
Metro-Mask was at the product development phase when the earthquake hit Nepal in 2015. The commercial production of the masks had started but was unable to reach Kathmandu due to the earthquake and the process got delayed. Meanwhile, Sherpa wanted to help out and with the help of his close friends and family was able to make almost 5,000 basic cloth mask and distribute in the streets and outskirts of Kathmandu and few hundred blankets for rescue and recovery operations in the disaster affected areas of the country.
The company has four products and related accessories in its portfolio. Under the brand name of Metro-Mask, the company has been producing 4 different types of masks namely the Moto, City and most recently the Urban and Dispo mask.
Moto Mask is a high-grade neoprene unisex sports mask that protects the wearers from exhaust fumes and dusty road conditions, other harmful airborne particles and protects the face from cold weather too. The City Mask is a stylish, well fitting, comfortable and reusable premium air filtration cotton facemask. The Urban Mask is the latest and also the most popular mask that protects the user from PM2.5 particle such as the exhaust fumes and other air borne particles harmful that can easily enter the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses. “I take customer feedback be it good or bad, very seriously and make sure to those information for the next product release” Sherpa mentions.
The Moto mask is priced at Rs 3,500 per piece, while the City and Urban costs Rs 1,500 each. The price of filter starts from Rs 200 and Rs 250. The filters are designed with special layers of microfibers that filters and traps harmful invisible particles know as PM2.5 and the active carbon layer filters the hydrocarbon gases and reduces odour as well. As per the product specifications, the Moto and the Urban Mask filters 99.9 percent of dust and air borne particles in the air while the City filters 95 percent.
The Urban mask is made up of durable outdoor material and can easily last a year or even more. Each filter is equipped with an adjustable nose clip to avoid fog build up in glasses and goggles."Unlike most masks that use uncomfortable ear loops, we listened to our customers and designed a high grade elastic strap that hooks comfortably behind the neck and can be used for long hours too", says Sherpa.
Air Quality Awareness
According to the global Environmental Performance Index (EPI) report released by Yale University and Columbia University in collaboration with the World Economic Forum in January 2018, Nepal is one of the countries with the worst air quality. The country ranked 176 among the 180 countries surveyed.
For general Nepali customers, the Metro masks maybe a bit expensive since many people have got used to using regular cotton masks that cost Rs 40-50 and surgical masks priced at Rs 5-10per unit. Nevertheless, Sherpa stresses buying the anti-pollution masks produced by his company is a worthwhile investment for protecting the health.
According to him, the Particulate Matter (PM2.5), the atmospheric solid and liquid particles suspended in the air, emitted by vehicles and brick kilns in the form of smoke are being circulated throughout the Kathmandu valley at an alarming pace. This has led to increasing respiratory and other health problems among Kathmandu residents.
Air pollution has become a serious issue in Nepal because it affects everybody. “People should know more about these factors to stay away from air pollution as its adverse impact takes a toll on their health. It is taking time, but the awareness among the people about air quality is gradually becoming visible in Nepal,” he says.
One Man Army
While most startups move forward with a team with experts in different fields, Sherpa is running Metro-Mask mostly by himself. Services like graphic design and photography, delivery services were outsourced from different firms and freelancers as required. The company recently hired a full time delivery personal for online orders and to deliver products to the 45 retail outlets across Kathmandu. He manages social media, looks after the orders, and takes on the advertising part as well. “I don’t always need these services so, I take their services only when needed,” he expresses.
Sports stores, bicycle stores, clothing stores and departmental stores are the company’s major clients and the orders are delivered to their doorsteps. “From my personal experience, I know that people don’t go on searching for pollution masks. But if they see a good one, everyone would want to own it,” Sherpa opines. Our latest range of masks is also available at five major outlets of Big Mart and all KK Mart outlets.
Sherpa, before starting the business, saw an opportunity for making a high quality anti-pollution mask as there were a very few available in the country. He started Metro-Mask with an investment of Rs 2.5 million. “For Nepalis, anti-pollution masks have become a necessity rather than luxury. People know they should wear a mask to protect themselves but most still do not know the right type of mask they need against air pollution,” he shares. He says that Metro-Mask does not spend much on advertising but sales have been picking up mainly via word of mouth and online marketing.
“As Metro-Masks are manufactured in China, communicating and getting the samples made exactly the way I wanted was a lengthy process. After getting it made, trying to convince the retailers that people would buy it for Rs 1,500 per unit was difficult especially when people are still using cloth mask costing Rs 50,” states Sherpa. At first, retailers were hesitant about Metro-Mask. So Sherpa convinced them that only needed to pay them if they were able to sell to customers. He says, “I requested them to let the customer decide and judge my products.”
Sherpa has been receiving requests from customers to come up with other useful products. “I am working in a development of a whole new category of products and very excited about their market launch sometime early next year,” he says.