Why you should care

Back pain sucks.

When Mom and Dad first went to work, sitting up straight came more naturally, with the imperious boss always in the background barking out commands and looking for any excuse to unleash. But in today’s delicate culture, where managers take feelings into account, workers seem to have trouble straightening up. Or maybe it’s the whole spending 12 hours a day in front of a computer phenomenon. Either way, there is a new undershirt that’s programmed to give you a loving tap whenever that soft spine starts to sag and those shoulders cave.

Percko, as the garment is called, is made from a thin, breathable fabric with elastic laminated tensors embedded near the fifth lumbar and shoulders that apply pressure when the wearer slouches, says co-founder Alexis Ucko. The 21st-century back brace came along as Ucko witnessed his father, a dentist, suffering from chronic back pain. But with a typical early-generation mentality, the old man didn’t do anything about it — except complain. So Ucko and his partner, Quentin Perraudeau, used their young, empathetic energy to find a solution, spending a year working with biomechanical specialists in France.

Ucko’s dad was their first customer; he bought eight shirts, one for him and one for everyone else in his office. But it seems a lot of people struggle to stand up straight. In just a few hours, the Percko Kickstarter reached its goal and since September has raised more than $400,000. The chemise will sell for $137 when it hits shelves in January. Meanwhile, the company has developed attachments so that customers can vary the strength of the stimulation.

What’s the difference between a $20 back brace and this (besides the price tag)? A back brace compresses muscles and in the end might actually atrophy them, some experts say. Percko nudges wearers to move correctly but doesn’t force anything. Still, others, like John Elder, who works at a postural therapy clinic, see it as a Band-Aid. He fears people will become dependent on the shirt to tell them when they’re sitting poorly, instead of self-monitoring. Others warn that going from slouching to correct posture overnight, without building up muscle, might cause back fatigue.

But the real question on everyone’s mind is: How do you wash it? As you would a regular old Fruit of the Loom undershirt, just make sure the water’s not too hot. The product is still evolving, and there are surely many more iterations to come. For now, though, this support system is getting major support.

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