Pollution has ruined the air in much of China, and is responsible for 1.6 million deaths each year. Throughout large swaths of the country, simply getting a breath of fresh air has become nearly impossible.
Still, many thought it was crazy when a Canadian company started selling bottled, clean air to China late last year. But now, with a new, more upscale packaged air company on the scene, it’s becoming even more clear exactly how much China’s wealthy are willing to pay — and how much the average Chinese person can’t afford to pay — for just a few gulps of clean air.
Leo De Watts, the 27-year-old Britain behind the air-importing company Aethaer, has made thousands of pounds selling jars of “naturally occurring, lovingly bottled” country air for £80 each (around $115). De Watts markets the air like a fine wine, claiming the air he collects from places like Somerset, Wales, and Dorset each have their own unique characteristics. Collecting that air doesn’t sound like a bad gig:
“The process involved travelling to some of the most beautiful, pristine areas of countryside, far away from industrial pollutants, motorways and impurities in search of the most immaculate quality of air,” states the Aethaer website, where you can also find videos that help explain their process and mission:
De Watts is fully aware that people will pay for a premium for his air, and thus isn’t marketing his product to the general Chinese population. Like a luxury priced bottle of water, De Watts thought, why not have a luxury priced bottle of air? “Think of us as being the equivalent of Louis Vuitton or Gucci,” De Watts told the Dorset Echo, “so we are not likely to appeal to a mass market.”
Which is just fine for the elite class in China, a country with the world’s third highest level of income inequality. The richest one percent own a third of the country’s wealth, while the poorest 25 percent are left to squabble over just one percent of the country’s total wealth. The average annual income in China is 56,339 Chinese Yuan, which is equivalent to around $8,500. That would put the price of a single jar of Watt’s imported air at more than 1 percent of the average annual income.
Since launching sales a couple weeks ago, De Watts has sold nearly 200 jars of air to people who both inhale and people who purchase it as a ridiculously priced novelty. And, not a man to miss an opportunity, De Watts is having a “Chinese New Year special,” selling 15 jars of air for the bargain price of £888 ($1,280).