A 58-year-old woman from Qingdao became famous overnight, after she was revealed as the inventor of the facekini, which made waves in the international fashion community.
Zhang Shifan said she was considering applying for a patent after photos of elegant models wearing facekinis were released by CR Fashion Book magazine.
The former accountant learnt to sew when she was young and started working in a water sports equipment store managed by her husband when she retired in 2006.
In 2004 Zhang designed a swimming suit that protected against jellyfish stings.
"Swimmers in the seas of Qingdao were often stung by jellyfish and if they got poisoned the stings would leave scars," she explained in an interview with Guangzhou Daily.
Zhang licensed a factory in Guangzhou to manufacture the anti-jellyfish suits in 2005. She later realized that the danger of jellyfish stings still existed because the suit failed to protect the user's face, so she designed a mask based on diving caps and ski masks. This marked the first generation of the facekini.
"They were sold at 35 yuan ($5.7) each, which was very expensive back in the year of 2006," Zhang said. "Many people would rather make one themselves using old swim suits than buy one in my store."
Although the product did not initially sell well Zhang made several improvements to make it more comfortable and fashionable. Today's facekini is the third-generation product, she said.
It took Zhang two years to sell 500 of the earliest masks, but now she sells more than 3,000 of the latest facekinis every summer.
The inventive woman said it was "a pity" that her facekini prototype was thrown away as she never imagined how popular it would become.
The facekini and the anti-jellyfish swimming suit are just two of Zhang's many inventions. She designed gloves and socks for winter swimming and sold them online but none of her products are covered by patents.
"I thought if they became patented fewer people would use them and I would have to worry about protecting them every day," she said. "So I decided to let all the world use them for free."
Zhang's low profile raised questions among some people who doubted if the products were really her own inventions. The remarks made her angry and she told local newspaper Peninsula Urban Daily that she was the first to have the idea of the facekini, to design it, to license a factory to manufacture it and to sell it on the market.
"Maybe I should file a patent application this time for the facekini," she said.
The facekini was first made known to the world in 2012 when Reuters posted photos of middle-aged women wearing them on the beach in Qingdao. The pictures were selected in a collection of "the most astonishing photos" by Time magazine in the same year.
Swimmers wear facekinis in the sea. The invention designed by Qingdao native Zhang Shifan is popular with local residents. Wang Haibin / for China Daily
(China Daily 08/27/2014 page17)