A Jacket for Germaphobes
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Coming down with the flu sucks. But one company proposes a stylish way to safeguard against that.
By Zara Stone
Commuting on public transit is kind of gross. Even on the best of days (we’re talking moderate temperature, no rain) you’ll encounter sticky marks on the seats, people with sweat stains and that weird woman who paints her nails at 7 a.m.
What you don’t anticipate, necessarily, is a fellow passenger urinating and the driver Febreze-ing up the stink. One of Nadeem Haidary’s friends recently witnessed such an episode, and Haidary uses it to explain why he’s so enthusiastic about the Germinator, his flu-fighting jacket. The premise is infernally simple: Imbue a stylish overcoat with a bevy of high-tech protective elements, and those who wear it will stay safe from germs.
The Germinator evolved out of a project that Haidary, 27, was assigned last year at gravitytank, a San Francisco innovation consultancy. He and colleague Amy Seng, 32, were tasked with investigating methods that would make public transit a healthier experience. And though they, like many Bay Area dwellers, found the daily commute challenging, it wasn’t obvious how they could make it healthier.
So the pair spent months following transit riders and observing their behavior — everyone from the butt scratchers to the mouth breathers — and noticed a number of patterns. For instance, those who sneeze on the train can’t easily clean themselves up. “We saw people pulling their sleeves down to grab a pole or burying their faces in their scarves,” Haidary said. Ugh.
It seemed like an obvious solution to design commuter-centric clothing that offered protection from airborne viruses, and thus was the Germinator jacket conceived. Half science, half common sense, it has a number of features that should keep even the most OCD from sweating it. Extra-long cuffs fold out to keep you from touching that sticky pole. A high removable collar with silver-infused antimicrobial fabric, which lets you discretely bury your face to avoid stray farts. The removable hood means you can lean against the window without touching it … and then wash the jacket later. The Germinator even has a built-in transit pass holder in the sleeve. OK, that’s not a germ thing — it’s just making your life easier.
The Germinator jacket, which will be available in January for $223 , was intended as a conceptual project, but Betabrand, a startup that helps prototype and manufacture original fashion, became interested in the idea. The company and the creators partnered up and made a prototype. Betabrand then offered it up for crowdfunding, and on Oct. 1 the jacket was 120 percent funded and is now gearing up for production.
A great idea, but maybe overkill: Whatever happened to good old-fashioned hygiene? “Some of our critics have said people should just wash their hands more often,” Seng conceded. “But the reality is you’re not always going to remember, or you’re going to absentmindedly scratch your face before get to your hand sanitizer.”
There’s another critique, of course: The jacket isn’t enough tech to keep you healthy on its own. “You need a combination of quantified self-surveillance and prevention,” argued Graham Dodge, CEO of Sickweather , which makes a related technology — an app that uses social media to track health trends.