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Choking pollution inspires innovative mask

R-PUR founders
R-PUR founders Matthieu Lecuyer (left) and Flavien Hello at work

Key prerequisites for a start-up include a strong partnership and a fresh perspective; the founders of innovative pollution-screening mask maker Boutique R-PUR are fine examples of this.

Founders Flavien Hello and Matthieu Lecuyer, both from France, met during an exchange visit to Korea. Upon their return to Paris, they were struck by the high and rising level of pollution in the city.

“We acquired existing [mask] solutions but found them ineffective and uncomfortable,” Mr Hello said.

In December 2016 the entrepreneurs decided to create their own air-pollution solution by surrounding themselves with engineers and experts in the field. Following more than two years of research, they had a prototype which met their main challenge – an effective mask that was both comfortable and stylish.

“Or vision is to provide a very good solution for people suffering from increasing air pollution,” Mr Hello said.

Exhibiting pays

R-PUR Nano mask
The R-PUR Nano mask (this one shows the Anchor pattern) is popular with bikers

R-PUR’s founders are looking to market their solution, the R-PUR Nano mask, outside their home base of France and Europe – into Asia and the world beyond. They brought their innovation to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s (HKTDC) ICT Expo early in 2019 and were pleasantly surprised by the response.

“I was really surprised because I didn’t know what to expect but we met a lot of different partners – ranging from distributors, logistic companies, investors or even just clients – looking for a solution like this one for a long time!” Mr Hello said.

“Also, we could meet with other start-ups, often at the same stage of development as us, so we could share useful tips and strategic partners,” he said. “I would love to come back next year, and I can only recommend it for start-ups wanting to expand to this market.”

Mr Hello said they had participated in many other events and were focusing on international expansion. Shows will be especially important because they will soon roll out a new model.

Paris is a vibrant start-up hot-spot, he said, but can be overwhelming because there are so many businesses progressing there. Other French cities with good start-up ecosystems include Bordeaux, Lille and Nantes.

Start-up hot spots

R-PUR’s founders used their crowd-funding exercise to do more than raise capital – it was a chance to let their buyers shape the product.

“During our crowd-funding we gave our users the opportunity to order 36 different models in different colours,” Mr Hello said. “It was a strong choice on our part and a high logistical challenge, but it was necessary to guide our final choice for our first collection,” he said, explaining the range of pattern designs on the mask, which include Hexagon, Ghost and Bordeaux.

“The names for this collection came quite naturally, we wanted to give a history to our different products,” he said. “For the next collection, we have decided to directly involve our community. Our products are, above all, theirs.”

Demanding market

R-PUR began distributing in France. Three years ago, wearing an anti-pollution mask in France was unthinkable, Mr Hello said. However, the French market, which has a reputation for being demanding in terms of design and style, responded well to their innovation.

The firm turned to the international market and now delivers to 35 economies through the e-commerce site. “Our wish is to establish ourselves more strongly in Asia,” Mr Hello said.

Episodes of intense air pollution hit Thailand and Korea early this year. “We quickly established the possibility of delivering people who wanted to protect themselves the best solution on the market,” Mr Hello said. “A lot of clients were very satisfied with the product in those countries, this convinced us to go to Asia.

“We will soon open a native e-commerce solution, where shipping and service costs will be the same as in Europe. Our Chinese development will arrive this autumn,” he said.

In addition to the sport, leisure and general wear market, R-PUR may also offer solutions for industrial users. “We are thinking in particular of people who have to work all day behind trucks, or in ports or airports.”

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