We are all concerned about the poor quality of the air we breathe here in Hong Kong and our neighbour, China, but one man is taking matters into his own hands. We catch up with Hong Kong based entrepreneur, Leo De Watts, who is taking the world’s media by storm with his latest venture, Aethaer – a company which sells bottled fresh air from the English countryside to people in China.
Tell us about your new business, Aethaer.
At Aethaer, we collect and bottle pure, clean, and clear, naturally filtered air from the most beautiful areas of countryside within Great Britain, package it, and ship it to our customers worldwide.
What does the name Aethaer mean?
Aethaer is not only the name of our brand, but also the name of the type of air we collect. Aethaer (pronounced eath-air) comes from the ancient Greek word for pure, fresh air. According to legend, this was only accessible to the gods, who inhaled it as a healthier and superior alternative to air available for mortal humans. Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Aether constitute the five elements, where Aether is a pure essence, found only in the clearest of skies.
Did you create Aethaer out of thin air – what gave you the idea?
I was back in the UK last December, and increasing levels of air pollution in China – particularly in Beijing – were gaining lots of media attention, especially when it reached “Red Alert”. Reports mentioned a Canadian company selling fresh mountain air in compressed form, and I spotted this as a contradiction in terms. You can’t condense or compress something and claim that it is natural or fresh. With more research into the matter, I quickly realised that no luxury brand existed that provided naturally filtered air in its uncompressed form. Another part that was poorly reported was the process of collecting this air. I found it hard to believe that people would climb a secluded mountain with a compressor, bottles, and a generator – it is more likely that bottles are bought with air already in them and the packaging is changed, or the compressor is set up in someone’s garage. In order to promote our new brand, it was important to show how we collect air, and the processes required, in order to then sell it.
What is the process of collecting the air and selling the jars?
In order to collect the air that we need, we make our way to some of the most beautiful, natural, and unspoilt areas of the British countryside – more often than not within areas designated as World Heritage Sites, and areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Once there, we open up the jars and leave them exposed to the elements for between 5 and 10 minutes, while we pass nets with wind-proof material inside through the air to collect in as much Aethaer as possible, and then use that to fill the jars and seal them closed. We then sell the jars through our website, where people can place orders, and we package and ship their jar to them.
What message are you trying to convey to the world?
Around 5.5 million people die each year from air pollution, and over 1 million of those are from China. The problem is, people gloss over statistics – news reports gain relatively few comments, and no one shows much interest because they aren’t affected by it at home. In order to make a statement, you don’t have to be a charity or an NGO, you can still make money and aim to highlight an issue at the same time. So the trick is to find a way to appeal to consumers and make headlines simultaneously. The Aethaer project is aimed at highlighting issues of environmental concern and is being developed to help inspire original thought to combat such issues. Our intention is to be a force for good, and influence change for generations to come, through our own actions, and by promoting the work of others. Whether our products are purchased for personal use, as gifts, for decoration, or are utilised as advertised, we hope to be a starting point for conversation that leads to change.
How many jars of fresh air have you sold so far?
Between January 1, 2016 and Chinese New Year (February 8), we sold around 150 jars at £80 each. Our customers may buy a jar for a number of reasons – either for themselves as a lavish statement of their personal financial status, or as a gift for friends, relatives, business associates, or as an item of environmental art. Our heritage style jars, with their printed design and packaging, all hint that they are series of artworks, and are highly collectable, but at the same time they can be opened up and consumed. We speculate that the original jars have already gone up in value given the amount of media attention we’ve been able to attract. We’re really pleased with our progress so far, and hope to continue raising awareness of the current conditions.
Fancy a breath of fresh air? Visit the Aethaer website to find out more.