Wang Zhijun has gotten a bit of attention for his amazing sneaker mask creations, especially the one he made out of an adidas YEEZY BOOST 350 V2. Other publications outside of the sneaker community are taking notice as well and Quartz just released a quick profile video on the young talent. In the vid, Zhijun explains that he was frustrated of living day to day in a smog-filled country. Most of the population wear generic face masks to combat the unsanitary air and they weren’t comfortable at all — so he created his own versions cut from sneakers that were not only comfy, but also functional and stylish.
He’s done masks out of other models as well such as the popular Nike Air Max 90, ACRONYM Nike Air Presto, and even PUMA kicks. All in all, the most important thing for Zhijun is that he’s raising awareness of the pollution problems in China. Watch the video and let us know your thoughts.
The Nike FlyKnit Mask by Zhijun Wang is something truly great. A designer and craftsman, Wang has repurposed a Nike FlyKnit sneaker into a mask for runners! Aimed at protecting the city runner from pollution, it fits comfortably over the face and is secured, you guessed it, by the FlyKnit’s shoe laces! This is simply brilliant. Whether the FlyKnit’s knit upper and neoprene will protect from harmful pollutants like benzene and diesel, I’m not so sure, but this is one of the best things I’ve seen on the Internet in a while.
Wang first started using designer sneakers to make face masks in 2014 and has since produced around 20 different pieces. Although initially running under the radar, one of his most recent works left many shoe hoarders cringing in disbelief. He created what was possibly one of the most sought-after pollution masks ever made, using a pair of Kanye West-designed, limited edition Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2s. A pair of the coveted sneakers reportedly once resold on eBay for $10,000.
“I didn’t even wear them. I took them out of the box and just cut them up to sew the mask,” Wang recalls. After Wang put the mask up for sale on eBay China in October, it drew a bid of more than $5,000. Far more than the $700 he had paid for the shoes, eBay ultimately blocked the transaction due to its price limits on first-time sellers.
But sale or not, Wang’s work gave him exactly what he’d hoped for. “Many western websites dedicated to fashion and footwear reported on the Yeezy mask. My other masks got a lot of attention, too. People started emailing me to ask where they could buy them,” Wang says. “But I’m not making them for a profit. Their purpose is to raise awareness about pollution in China. They are a creative project — my own campaign to tackle the issue.”
Wang, who is a runner and avid sneaker collector, developed the idea after one of the regular blankets of smog that so often shrouds Beijing made it difficult for him to exercise outdoors. “I used to run around my neighborhood in central Beijing, until I couldn’t anymore. It would hurt my lungs, making it difficult to breathe,” he says. “I started reading up about pollution around then — on English-language outlets, our country doesn’t really say much about it. That’s when I decided to act, starting from what I know best, and what’s around me.”
The 34-year-old had previously worked as a graphic designer at Puma and Saatchi&Saatchi and having created his own custom-made pair of Nikes inspired by the Chinese New Year horoscope, he decided to turn his passion for tinkering with sneakers into something more practical.
He carefully drafted the idea for his first designer sneaker face mask, and used an all-black cover made of a panel from a Nike jacket and a Nike Flyknit racer silo shoe. On his second attempt he moved exclusively to using sneakers and now incorporates most parts of the shoe — from laces and insoles to side panels and tongues — into his masks, without even sketching out his designs. “I just picture the mask, and start dissecting the shoes. It comes naturally,” Wang says.
Each mask is unique, and takes him around five days to craft. Although Wang used 3M filters from the local convenience store for his early models, his newest ones are fitted with Respro filter valves imported from the UK. Health professionals haven’t tested them, but the designer believes they are fully functional. “I ran a half marathon in one of them, and noticed discoloration afterwards. They work,” he says. You won’t find him sporting his own masks these days — since catching global attention, the designer mostly uses them for promotional photoshoots.
And while at first he had to dig into his own sneaker collection or those of his friends, big brands have started sending him their latest models to be dissected. “They all thought I was crazy initially, but then they got on board with the project and started offering up their sneakers,” he says.