'It seemed like the obvious thing to do,' Johnson-Hill says to Time Out. 'Someone sent me a link to canned Canadian air and how popular that was. In fact, one of these canned air companies even came to me and asked me to do design for them, and I just thought: F**k that – why not do it myself?'
Dominic Johnson-Hill in his Plastered 8 store.
'In the meeting with the canned air guy, I said I was going to be doing it myself. He said, "You'll have some competition." I said, "I'm going to do Beijing air" – and he laughed at me. But I thought: Why not do it the other way round?' The British-born entrepreneur did just that.
Plastered even released a video promoting the product (above, VPNs off), in which an actor appears to be standing in front of some of the world's most famous landmarks while huffing up canned smog. In fact, he's standing in front of miniature replicas of world monuments at the fabulously kitsch Beijing World Park
The idea behind the video is that Beijingers travelling the world miss Beijing's PM2.5-laden air. But what may have started as a bit of a joke might just take off.
'I just got two WeChats this morning from Chinese people living in Cambridge, asking how they could buy [the cans] as they miss Beijing so much,' says Johnson-Hill. That made me realise this is a job well done. I don't know how I'm going to sell the remaining 980 cans that I have, but I think it was worth a shot!'
Not everyone is into the canned laughter, however, with some people reacting negatively to the product.
'I've got a lot of hate mail today,' says the plucky Brit. One person said, "Seeing a Beijinger eating [instant noodles] at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and then breathing in Beijing air is a real insult". And I wrote back saying, "It's a fake Eiffel Tower by the Fifth Ring Road, the actor is from Dongbei, and the cans are made in Shenzhen – it's all one big joke!'
As Johnson-Hill puts it himself: 'Nothing like a good joke to clear the air.'