Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
A duo from Edmonton is selling their product by the thousands, thanks to China’s latest air quality crisis.
It’s an especially bad time to depend on a nose, mouth, and lungs for breathing if you’re in Beijing. While few can afford the pleasures of a leisurely mountain escape in nearby Zhangjiakou, a whiff of Banff is within reach!
“Red alert” smog levels hit China’s capital city earlier this month—the highest alert issued since the color-coded system debuted in 2013. As a result, some residents are taking the desperate measure of buying clean air from a can.
For Troy Paquette and Moses Lam, it’s a very good time to be in the business of selling an invisible element. After successfully selling sealed plastic bags of air on eBay (the first for 99 cents, the second for $168 after a bidding war), the duo started Vitality Air in 2014.
Based in Edmonton, Vitality Air claims to fill each can with the purest air found in the Rockies and Lake Louise in Banff. Their process, “a bit of a trade secret," Paquette told Vice, involves filling “massive cans through clean compression, locking in the pure air without any contamination.” Then, back at their facility, they fill canisters “to the brim.”
A can of Vitality Air contains about 150 sprays. A single can goes for $14 (before shipping), while a double pack can go for as much as $43. It’s no bargain. According to the Telegraph, one can is “about 50 times more expensive than a bottle of mineral water in China.” Vitality Air’s China sales representative tells the Telegraph that most customers are affluent women “who buy [cans] for their families or give [them] away as gifts.” Night clubs and senior homes are also buying in.
The company’s first shipment of 500 bottles sold out in less than a week and 4,000 more are on their way, according to Lam. Enthusiasm is palpable on the company’s customer testimonial page: “IT TASTE LIKE AIR VERY GOOD THANK U,” says a reviewer by the name of “Xi.”
The only listed U.S. vendor is Brown Dog Distributors in Jacksonville, Florida. Owner Teresa Davis tells CityLab that she reached out to Vitality after struggling with the elevation on a trip Springboat Valley, Colorado. Feeling better after taking hits from a $15 can of oxygen she bought at a convenience store, Davis is a believer. Since then, she has sold 60 cans in two months and reaches out to exercise studios in hopes of reaching the coveted healthy-and-affluent demographic.
Lam and Paquette’s venture into the business of selling air isn’t totally new to China. Liang Kegang, an artist in Beijing, sold a glass jar of air from southern France last year for nearly $800. The eccentric millionaire Chen Guangbiao sold cans of air from less-polluted parts of China in 2013 for $0.80 each. With no signs of China solving its unhealthy air problem, more absurd solutions are sure to arrive on the market.