Cambridge Mask Company’s military grade masks sell out amid coronavirus pandemic
One of the few success stories to come out of the coronavirus outbreak is a small business in Cambridge that is supplying more than 70 countries with military grade face masks that can filter out the virus.
Set up five years ago, The Cambridge Mask Company is the brainchild of former Cambridge University student Chris Dobbing.
He first hit on the idea of supplying military grade masks to the general public after a stint working in Chinese school where he noticed children suffering breathing problems due to heavy pollution.
Chris said: “I developed the masks after moving to China in 2012. I was working with a lot of young children in education and a lot of them were getting really sick from the air pollution. I saw some of the younger kids colouring the sky grey rather blue on their drawings which I found really shocking and after being lucky enough to grow up in the British countryside. I didn't think any child should grow up thinking it is normal to cough all day.
“I started looking into it and realised about seven million people a year die from air pollution. It is one of the great global health emergencies facing the world - more than all murders, suicides and car crashes combined. So I really wanted to do something about it. Having served in the Air Force Reserves for three years when I was a student I was aware of the technology they use in the military masks and was lucky enough to be able to negotiate the exclusive rights to use it in the mask for civilians. So we have had that for five years and since then we have grown to having offices all over the world.”
The masks contain an activated carbon cloth which was by the British Ministry of Defence for use in chemical, biological and nuclear warfare protection.
Cambridge Mask Company now holds the exclusive global rights for this material for use in a consumer pollution mask. In other words, you won’t find it in any other mask outside of the military.
Chris said: “The inner carbon layer is a 100 percent activated carbon cloth developed by the British military, which is the unique part of it. But there's also a middle layer that is a particulate filter and will get rid of 99.978 per cent of really tiny particulate solutions, including pm 2.5, which is a 50th of the width of a human hair."
Their Pro Mask is the product that contains the military grade filters. One mask costs £24.95 and lasts between 200 to 300 hours of use.
Chris says: “For someone using the mask one or two hours a day it would last three to six months. For what I call power users, or people with very severe needs, it would be one a month if they are using them whenever they are outside the house. There is a very large community of people in that sort of situation.
“We have a lot of users with severe respiratory illnesses especially things like cystic fibrosis or copd, but a lot of cyclists also wear them to protect them from air pollution.
But also if you have someone sneezing behind you on an aeroplane they work really well against picking up bugs. We sell them to British airways to give out to their first class passengers going to Delhi and Beijing.”
They also sell to embassies, the UN and The European Bank for Construction and Development. Chris adds their next spike of sales is coming for the US.
Although the product was developed to combat the effects of air pollution, its unique ability to filter out viruses has seen the business experience a huge surge in demand.
Chris says: “We have had to say first come first served which is the only fair way of doing it. Currently we are sold out to the end of May although we are trying to produce them as quickly as we can while maintaining our rigorous quality standards.
The filters are manufactured in the UK and their masks are assembled at our production facilities in Asia.
Chris explained the company was in discussions with the NHS about supplying the masks for vulnerable patients but that they masks were not suitable for medical professional because hospitals require doctors and nurses to change masks between each patients.
These masks are designed for long term use,” he explained. “It would not make financial sense to discard them after a single use.”
Demand is far outstripping supply and the company is sold out of masks until May. Chris says: “We were getting around 1100 customer service messages every single day and 200 phone calls and we only had a few people in our customer services team. We have expanded that team but it is still a struggle.
“We are just concentrating on getting masks out the door while maintaining our very high quality standards.”
For more information, visit https://cambridgemask.com/
More by this authorAlex Spencer