The Beijing Designer Making Air Masks from Air Jordans

By Oscar Holland, December 6, 2016

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When Wang Zhijun received his pair of limited edition Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2s in the mail from Chile, he didn’t try them on. Nor did he keep the RMB5,000, Kanye-designed sneakers safe in their box. Instead, the 34-year-old Beijinger sliced the shoes apart and sewed the pieces into a pollution mask. described the act as “the sort of thing that would make many sneaker enthusiasts cringe” (the article was titled ‘Chinese Designer Destroys Yeezy Boosts to Make a Face Mask’). But 124 eBay bids later and the new creation was worth RMB34,700 – almost seven times the price paid for the original shoes.

The deal subsequently fell through, as eBay imposes price limits on first-time sellers. But Wang doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, by the time he arrives at That’s Beijing offices for a photo shoot a few weeks later, he has decided to keep the Yeezy mask in his collection. The project was never about money anyway, he says.

“The masks are not normally for sale, they’re just ideas and collaborations,” Wang explains. “I make them to show people that they can change their thinking – and make creative things from basic stuff around them.


“You can easily get these materials from a market or sneaker shop. Then you can combine it with your own ideas to create new possibilities. What I want to do is tell people that everyone can change their lives – their boring lives – from right now.”

It’s a grand aim for a humble face mask. But the designs have been attracting global attention. Earlier this year, one of Wang’s products featured on the front cover of French magazine Shoes Up, and he recently collaborated with Puma on a global campaign (the brand now offers him “product support” – in other words, they send him free sneakers to dissect). 

Since starting the project in early 2014, Wang has produced almost 20 unique masks. Each takes between two and five days to hand-sew. Sneakers’ insoles, laces and tongues can all be used, and running shoes generally work best (“high-tops are too big”). Each design is unique and Wang doesn’t even sketch out his ideas before dismembering a pair of – sometimes very expensive – shoes. 

“It’s like I’m meditating,” he says of the design process. “I just sit there and look at the sneaker. Then I get an idea in my mind and start making it immediately.

“This is my newest one,” he says, pulling out a mask made from Acronym x Nike Presto Mids (currently retailing at around RMB1,300 a pair). The design marks the first time he’s used the shape of the heel to fit over the wearer’s mouth and nose.

Wang, who works as a graphic designer and has made custom sneakers for Usain Bolt, uses filter valves imported from the UK. The masks have never been tested for efficacy, though their creator believes that the filters’ eventual discoloration is evidence enough. 

“More and more people care about their health and are using masks in their daily lives,” says Wang, who has been a keen runner since 2010. “When I worked at an international advertising company, I noticed that my foreign colleagues cared more about their health than my Chinese colleagues. That made me re-think my life. I wanted to be different from my parents, my relatives and even my neighbors.”

Wang started customizing sneakers in 2012 and began turning them into masks in early 2014. He wore one for a half marathon, though nowadays he’s more likely to be seen sporting a regular commercial face mask – his custom designs are saved for photo shoots and promotions. If the project is to raise environmental awareness, the products are more useful box fresh, he argues.

“Maybe everyone hates the pollution outside but they can’t all shout about it,” he explains. “I want others to be aware of environmental change. I try to suggest to – not persuade – people that they can control what they do to other people, the environment and even to the next generation. We have to face the changes happening in our city, our environment, our air, our situation.”

See more of Wang’s designs at

Images by Holly Li

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