In People

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Airinum : clean air is the new black

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Credibility. Design. Functionality.

Three words to define Airinum, according to its CEO and Co-Founder Alexander Hjertström.

Credibility, the product has been designed based on extensive research, its benefits have been proved scientifically, and it actually works.

Design, the product combines high technology with the latest fashion trends.

Functionality, as for Airinum being fashionable does not compromise functionality.

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Airinum is the anti-pollution mask brand enchanting the whole world with the promise of taking its consumers to the top of Scandinavian mountains by breathing through a system of multi-layered valves wrapped into fashionable styles. The cool design of Airinum’s masks contributed to the popularity of the brand, which is already a social media superstar.

Originally from Sweden, born from the combined experience of two old friends, the brand is the result of understanding how something that is taken from granted on one side of the world can be a luxury for others. After living in India and experiencing breathing problems because of pollution, Alexander returned to Sweden and together with Fredrik Kempe, today CMO and Co-Founder, created Airinum.

Airinum is currently expanding in Asia, and the leading brand accelerator, Bluebell, which has recognized the potential of the brand, is partnering with the brand in Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Retail in Asia has met Alexander and asked him about his brand, product, marketing, and expansion plan, for such a fast-growing business.

RiA : Airinum is the result of your personal experience in Asia, how did everything begin?

Alexander : After graduation, in 2014, I started working at a Swedish investment firm where I was doing research on startups, and I moved to Africa. There, I took part into a project to build an Amazon-like e-commerce platform called Jumia. Later on, I moved to Australia where I joined Iconic, an online fashion platform.

I mostly worked in the e-commerce industry and I have experienced various emerging markets, which helped me to understand consumer behavior. After that, I decided to move to India for my MBA studies. The Indian market had always appealed to me, but after a couple of days there, I started getting some asthma-like symptoms.

Coming from Sweden, I have never had any concerns about the air I was breathing, but in India, I realized many people are victims of air-pollution. I started doing research, and figures were simply scary. At its worst, repeated exposure to polluted air can even kill. In fact, 7 million people die annually as a result of poor air quality. In India, it is very common for people to wear masks as it is the only way to prevent breathing problems. However, masks were really “unattractive”.

Therefore, I saw in that an opportunity. I could help people living a healthier life, while benefiting from it. That’s how Airinum was born. It was the result of my experience in Asia, and the collaborative work with my old friends Fredrik, the other Co-founder.

Living in Sweden, clean air was something we all took for granted. Once we realized not everyone could breathe the clean and healthy Scandinavian air, it pushed us to do something about it.

RiA : You have managed to turn a technological product into a fashion accessory, what is the technology behind Airinum?

Alexander : The first thing when it comes to protection is the filter technology. We use several layers to filter the different types of particles, different size particles.

For the first layer, we use active carbon which takes away gases from the air. The second layer is electrostatically charged and absorbs bigger particles such as pollen and bacterias.

The final and finest layer is microfibre. This is the one where the tiniest more harmful particles get stuck. The output of all this process is clean air as the tiniest particles are the ones streaming through your lungs to your blood system to finally get stuck into your brain.

Unlike bad substances, which you can wash out through your body, pollution gets hidden in your body and eventually triggers the sickness.

RiA : What is the key feature of Airinum masks?

 Alexander : We have patented the way we design our masks. When you are wearing a mask for an extended period of time, it tends to get uncomfortable. This is where Airinum’s extensive know-how and years of research come in. We have integrated two exhalation valves into our masks, which allow our customers to breathe in through the whole mask, but solely exhale through the ventilation system. With this technique, our customers do not feel any discomfort as it mimics natural breathing.

RiA : Airinum has been gaining popularity in Asia as it provides a different design experience, what’s your source of inspiration?

It was really important for us to turn such a technical item into a lifestyle accessory. After carrying out extensive research, we discovered people know about the risks linked to pollution. They know it might cause them health issues; however, they do not want to put on an unattractive surgical mask on their face which is why it was key for us to turn the mask into an attractive fashion accessory.

When designing our masks, we draw inspiration from nature and the Scandinavian climate. Our goal is for our products to be quite minimalistic and easy to fit different outfits. We were really inspired by brands like Acne Studio that have been quite successful in this part of the world. We wanted to be unisex and focus on the quality and minimalistic design rather than Hello Kitty and friendly faces.

RiA : What is your customer profile?

Alexander : Our customer profile is the young crowd. At the beginning we had more men following us, now aficionados seem to have reached a balance between men and women. Our customers are young professionals who want to protect themselves and their family from pollution. Indeed, children are even more exposed as their lungs are still developing and are therefore more vulnerable and sensitive to pollution. In the wider audience, we have health conscious and fashion savvy.

We have sold our products in over 70 countries, we have had different customer profiles and we re-imagined our target based on the market demands. Surprisingly though, young people are the ones that have been using our masks the most. It is different from what we were expecting as we thought that the health-conscious segment would have been our biggest driver. We could not predict that the fashion savvy would be the one driving sales. This was a really big surprise. Some people in Korea or Japan purely buy our masks as a fashion statement, regardless of the function.

RiA : Do you use any specific educational pitch as with new products customers need to know more about what there is behind the product rather than simple advertising?

Alexander : Yes, this is highly relevant to us. The educational part is key to our product and we strive to spread the message and raise awareness. For instance, we mix our posts on our Instagram account with lifestyle pieces and technical renderings showing tech specs.

We also post videos explaining the health benefits coming from the use of our products. One key element in our social media content is the contrast between urban setting and nature. I want customers to visualize themselves in the middle of a natural setting while breathing through our masks. That instant when they can finally breathe freely and feel the freshness and purity of the oxygen they are getting. I want customers to be able to close their eyes and at that moment, surrounded by the hectic life of HK, for instance, picture themselves in Scandinavia on the top of a mountain, breathing the purest air in the world.

RiA : We have seen Airinum launching different collaborations. How do you choose who to collaborate with?

Alexander : So far, the limited editions have been with other Swedish brands. One of the designers is from H&M and another one is from Filippa K. We want to keep on collaborating with other big brands. We are also currently at the final stage talk with a big musician, a DJ, for a possible collaboration. Nothing is confirmed yet but those type of cross-art partnership can really elevate the brand and sort of get consumers to connect it to different industries.

It is now very common to blend fashion and music. Big Sean has recently traveled to Dubai where he shared pictures of himself wearing our mask on Instagram. As one of the biggest upcoming artist in the US he has a lot of influence on social media. Moreover, we had his wife, Jhene Aiko, sharing pictures on social media while partying at Coachella a few weeks later. Also in Korea, Super Junior was posting pictures with our products. The strength of social media is really amazing. As one influencer starts posting, it can just ignite in a heartbeat and go viral. Asian are especially sensitive to influencers which is why Super Junior’s posts really got us excited as it really sets the trend in Asia.

The product is perfectly suited for it. As it is in your face, it quickly goes viral. To be honest, we were a little bit hesitant at the beginning. We were not sure whether people would really put on a mask and share it on Instagram. However, people liked it so we decided to use it as a pure marketing strategy. We have an internal team working with KOLs. KOLs we work with pay close attention to their personal branding and they like our product because it can help their friends to live a healthier life and raise awareness about the planet and the idea of sustainability.

RiA : Besides the influencers and celebrity endorsements, what is your marketing strategy?

Alexander : Our main focus right now is to become a credible brand. We have combined this objective with our pricing strategy and work on every online channels to build brand awareness. Some would say growth is the most important factor, but I believe awareness is key in the beginning. We need to carefully study the different locations and platforms we should be seen on to build a credible brand and thrive in the long-run.

Airinum
Source : Airinum

RiA : What is your expansion plan in Asia?

Alexander : Every market in Asia is relevant and we aim at growing in each and every one of them.
Our strategy is to penetrate new markets through online channels first. Then, as soon as we gain traction, we want to find offline partners. We use this strategy to build up our brand awareness. Once Airinum becomes known to all, we aim at expanding in as many markets as possible. As experience has shown us, our product sells when it gets into stores and as our user database grows, and the word about Airinum spreads, our sales increase as well.

RiA : You said that after launching online,  you look for strong partnerships for the offline distribution. Why?

Alexander : The choice is two fold: ideally, we would like to manage the offline distribution ourselves but because Asia is so different from Europe we do not have the know-how and resources in house. Hence, penetrating countries like Taiwan, China or Korea on our own would be too difficult. We would not be as successful in breaking through the noise which is why we need to team up with local partners that have a comprehensive network and leverage on it. They provide us with that local know how and also regional network, hence the paramount importance for us to find the right partners.

RiA : What about your price strategy?

Alexander : Our mask is for now pretty expensive for one simple reason: it is the most advanced product currently available on the market.

I like to say we have a Tesla strategy in mind. We want to be a brand that people aspire to and known for its quality which is why we need to be expensive. However, we are very much aware that people in developing countries like India or Southeast Asia are in need of our product so we want to find a more affordable version along the line. It is definitely something we are working on as we grow.

RiA : You said your focus is Asia, but you have several points of sales in other countries. Do you sell in Scandinavia for example, or other countries where your product is not a need?

Alexander : It is super surprising but Sweden is actually our fifth largest market online which shows that we have just scraped on the untapped market potential lying there. A lot of people buy our mask in Sweden as they are travelling or commuting and there is a lot of dust on the road there.

Surprisingly, our biggest online market is not Asia but the US. Even though all our marketing efforts are directed towards Asia, the US remains first by far. At the beginning, we thought it would only be temporary but it has proven us wrong and has been constant over the years. LA and California are quite polluted and there are lots of germs and diseases in the subway of New-York. These characteristics are the main factors driving our sales.

Given the fact that our product is growingly turning into a lifestyle item, it could soon be seen as the next pair of sunglasses. Whether you are in NY, Paris or Beijing, it won’t make any difference then. Asia, on that matter, is ahead of Europe as locals are educated on the subject. We are already seeing our masks in the Middle East, as result of the trend growing in Iran.

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RiA : What is next for Airinum?

Alexander : Maybe the development of a new product line?

At the end of the day, our Mission is to empower individuals to breathe clean air through innovative products that intersect functionality and design and raise awareness about the air they breathe. Unique designer masks in collaboration with brands, artists and designers will hopefully also serve as a push for policy makers to act.

Now, with this background in mind, what we can say is that bigger things are around the corner and we are excited to take Airinum to the next level in 2018/2019.

Stay tuned to learn more about Airinum’s development.

 

*Bluebell is the owner of Retail in Asia

 

 

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