Business was not great when 26-year-old entrepreneur Aryavir Kumar launched a new venture in South Delhi’s upscale Select City Walk mall in May. The way he saw it, his Oxy Pure “oxygen bar” would offer bursts of fragrant, purified oxygen to clients seeking relief from jet lag, sleep disorders, hangovers and even depression. But Delhi seemed less than enthusiastic.

Then, crisis struck the National Capital Region – and opportunity banged on Kumar’s door.

In October, pollution levels peaked to hazardous levels. Schools were shut. And for the last week, Delhi residents desperate for clean air have thronged Kumar’s establishment, eager to avail themselves of 15-minute sessions that start at Rs 299 and go up to Rs 499.

“The first month was slow but we are now making profits,” said Kumar, whose family owns the Clarks Group of Hotels, a hospitality company that runs a chain of around 90 hotels in India. Kumar first saw an oxygen bar in Los Angeles in 2015. His motivation for opening something similar in India was simple: “I started it because the concept is cool,” he said.

The dangerous pollution levels across North India have proved that he’d made a good business decision. In two weeks, Kumar will open a branch of Oxy Pure at Indira Gandhi International Airport’s Terminal 3 and he has been been inundated with calls to start franchises of the bar.

The 'oxygen bar' in South Delhi that opened in May.

How it works

Customers at Oxy Pure strap a tube (known as a cannula) under their nostrils that gives them a whiff of oxygenated air with a fragrance of their choice: peppermint, orange, cinnamon, eucalyptus, lavender, spearmint or lemongrass. The air they breathe is generated by an “oxygen concentrating machine” that purifies the air around it and delivers it to the customer.

Under normal circumstances, the air humans breathe contains only 20% oxygen. Extremely high levels of oxygen could actually be harmful, causing lung damage and possibly even death.

The machines used to generate oxygen at Oxy Pure – sourced from a US firm called Oxygen Bars – create air with a 95% level of the gas, Kumar said. But since the tube is not fixed tightly under the customer’s nose, the oxygen they breathe is mixed with other atmospheric gases to eventually reach a concentration of between 30% and 50%.

Sessions are limited to only 15 minutes to minimise risk to the customer. Said Kumar: “This therapy does not cure any diseases. It is purely for rejuvenation like a spa.”

How it feels

Oxy Pure occupies a narrow space in the mall. Its walls are covered with plants. On Friday evening, three staff members attended to customers who were looking curiously at the colourful bubbling chambers.

Among them was 29-year-old businessman Aman Batra, who had heard about the establishment from friends. He was trying out the therapy for the first time was was a little nervous. “It feels like a hospital,” he said.

But at the end of his 15 minutes, he seemed rather satisfied. “There is a good fragrance in my nose and my body feels light,” Batra said.

Two customers who sat next to Batra had the similar reactions. “Our health should feel good and it is not about the money,” said 34-year-old entrepreneur Dinesh Dahiya.

Before Batra left, he bought a packaged bottle of “ultra-portable oxygen” for Rs 650. “It’s good for hangovers,” he claimed after he sprayed the oxygen in his mouth. “If we go to party at night then we can use it.”

Oxy 99, the "ultra portable oxygen" priced at Rs 650 for a bottle.

Pollution and profit

The business of producing clean air has been on the rise in India as pollution levels soar. The air purifier market in India’s residential sector will be valued at around $39 million by 2023, according to a study by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, Livemint reported in February.

Oxygen bars like Kumar’s Oxy Pure are not uncommon in countries like France and Japan. In fact, Tokyo actually has an “oxygen bar” for dogs. But unlike Delhi, these countries do not have hazardous pollution levels.

Kumar thinks that the business scope for these outlets could be greater. “Yes, this [oxygen] can be commodified and turned into a business venture,” he said. “Did we ever think that we would pay for bottled mineral water?”

Dinesh Dahiya, the entrepreneur who had come in to sample the offerings, was pleased that Oxy Pure had opened up. “The natural thing is gone so if there is an option then we will buy it,” he said.