Grzegorz Swiech models the latest streetwear in Krakow, Poland, a city plagued by particulate pollution.
Photographer: Tomer Ifrah for Bloomberg Businessweek
Ewa Zelenska-Olczak was nine months pregnant when this photo was shot in March. The 23-year-old master’s student at AGH University of Science & Technology in Krakow, Poland, says she’s almost never without a mask outdoors, especially from October to April. That’s when the city’s air is at its worst, heavy with smog, much of it caused by household stoves that burn coal, wood, and trash to generate heat. Local coal-fired power plants add to the problem. According to the World Health Organization, Krakow’s particulate-matter pollution, a mix of small particles in the air that may affect the heart and lungs, can reach six times the levels considered safe on high-smog-alert days.
Some residents don the kind of basic cloth mask used in hospitals. The city’s young, hip, and digitally connected, including Rafal Zralka and Agnieszka Dabrowska, make statements with fashionable masks from companies such as Dragon Mask of Krakow or RZ Mask of Burnsville, Minn. Jvlia Swiech first became active with local environmental groups to raise awareness of the harm inflicted by air pollution four years ago, when she was 13. The masks “communicate the same values, and unite people,” she says.
The protective gear might lose favor once a law that bans household coal burning in the city, which faces resistance from the local coal industry, takes effect in 2019. —With Marta Waldoch