SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Motivated by his children, Silicon Valley dad and tech worker Kevin Ngo is using his background to help build a better Bay Area by reimagining face masks.
"This is what our mask looks like," Ngo said as he unboxed the Flo Mask. "There's a user guide here."
Ngo is the founder and a father of three. In 2018, well before the pandemic, he started designing the mask out of concern for his young children. At the time, the Camp Fire was tearing through Butte County and impacting air quality.
"My kids were going to school without any protection whatsoever. They came home and complained about having headaches, feeling nausea," he described. "But here I am, wearing an N95 to work."
Ngo said he spent 20 years of his career developing products, and was able to put that experience to use during the design process. He was seeking a better solution for a mask that sealed around the faces of kids.
Initially, Flo Mask by Air Flo Labs, LLC was developed for kids - a reusable, rubber-like product meant to be tailored, comfortable and effective. When COVID hit, the pandemic brought with it an even more urgent demand for mask use.
"The mask industry has not innovated in decades. It's the same stuff that they've been selling for so many years," he shared. "And no one's even thought to 3D scan someone's face to see if it really fits them or not."
With inclusion in mind, part of Ngo's process involved 3D scanning the faces of dozens of children across different ethnicities. This was Ngo's way of enhancing fit and filtration for any face shape.
He expanded inventory in April, to include masks for adults as well. In that development process, Ngo said 3D scanning involved hundreds of faces of adults.
The company's website reads, "The world was a much different place from when we first started our journey in 2018, but our mission remains concrete: build the world's best face mask for everyone, period."
"I'm not surprised to see the world of biology and innovation now start to look at masks and say, 'How can we improve off of these,'" ABC7 Special Correspondent Dr. Alok Patel said as he held up a single use, surgical mask. "Which are pretty outdated at this point."
Dr. Patel continued, "And to be completely honest, we live in a world now where there might be another outbreak of another respiratory virus soon enough. There might be another time when you're going somewhere and you want that extra level of protection. And, there are sadly more wildfires each year."
When asked about Ngo's effort, Dr. Patel said it was reassuring.
"Reassuring to see individuals out there taking this on, and saying, 'How do we make a well-fitting mask that has the right level of filtration, that also is comfortable, that people can wear for a long period of time, but also is reusable,'" he told ABC7 News. "So we're reducing waste."
Ngo added, "Our masks are designed to last 20 to 40 hours. So one filter can last you an entire week."
"And so, these masks are not winding up in landfills and in the oceans. I'm actually very happy to see an effort like this taking place and to see the next generation of masks rollout," Dr. Patel said.
Ngo said collaborating with his team during the COVID-19 pandemic made the process more challenging, since they couldn't develop a product in-person. He and his partners were forced to work at a distance.
In order to alleviate any issues that may be caused by delays in the supply chain, Ngo said the filters are made in the U.S., packaging is made in Southern California, and the company warehouse is located in the Bay Area.
"I'm trying to do as much locally as we can," he shared. "Because oftentimes, it's easier to think about profits over people. But that's not what this mission is about."
The Flo Mask isn't formally N95 certified. However, Ngo said his company is working directly with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as a finalist in the BARDA/NIOSH/NIST Mask Innovation Challenge.
Air Flo Labs, LLC is one of 10 remaining teams in the entire country. The Flo Mask team is made up of award winning product designers from around Silicon Valley, having spent our entire careers building products for the world's best tech companies.
"It's been quite challenging, but we're here to protect people," Ngo told ABC7 News.
"It's the immunocompromised users that we're trying to cater to right now," he continued. "They feel somewhat abandoned because of the rule changes around masks, and they've realized that if it's 'everyone for themselves,' they really need to upgrade and step up to the best masks available today."
For more information on Flo Mask, click here.
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