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Image credit: Loughborough University

UK design student creates a smart chest binder for trans people

The wearable is meant to make binding safer, easier and more comfortable.
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Loughborough University

A UK design student created a smart wearable that could make chest binding safer, easier and more comfortable for transgender men and non-binary people. Chest binding is the act of flattening one's breasts using a tight garment in order to make the chest appear more masculine. While it can have immense mental health benefits, it can take a physical toll. Many people have reported broken ribs from too-tight wraps, and binding can be especially difficult in the summer, when the wearer is at risk of overheating. With this garment, called Breathe, Loughborough University industrial design student Miles Kilburn hopes to address many of those of common issues.

Breathe looks like a thin, cropped tank top with mesh panels to keep the user cool. While it's normally tight fighting, Breathe contains a smart alloy material called Nitone that, when electrified, loosens the garment. It's battery operated and can be adjusted with a remote controller, so the user can discreetly change how tight the binding is -- there's no need to change their clothing or go into a private space in order to take a break. There's also an optional feature that will automatically loosen the device when the user is playing a sport.

Most alternative chest binding options are rather analog, and some DIY solutions resort to duct tape, plastic wrap or bandages. Kilburn hopes the technology in Breathe will make it easier and safer for people to bind. While he recognizes that it will be too expensive for many, Kilburn also plans to make the device available for rent. That would make repairs free, in the event the tech stops working, and include free replacements if the owner grew or gained weight. While tech companies from Apple to Google, Facebook and Tinder have vowed to support LGBTQ+ users, many solutions have been digital. Breathe takes a different approach, putting tech to use in a physical device that addresses an everyday issue.

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