A UK design student has designed a ‘smart’ clothing item that makes chest binding more comfortable.
Chest binders may be used by transgender men and non-binary people to flatten the appearance of their breasts and make their upper torso appear more typically masculine.
This can have huge mental health benefits but may cause restricted breathing ability, skin irritation and in the summer, even increase the risk of overheating. In some cases, binders have even been known to cause ribs to break.
Binders can take many forms from wrapped material to very tight singlets made of stiff material. The ‘smart’ binder from Loughborough University industrial design student Miles Kilburn aims to make binding safer and more comfortable.
Breathe - in name and action
The ‘Breathe’ binder looks similar to a cropped tank top and is created from mesh panels that keep the wearer cool. The panels contain a smart alloy material called Nitonel that, which when electrified, collapses the garment and loosens the binder.
The binder is operated by a small remote and the user can adjust the tightness of the binder with discretion, with no need to go to a private space. The product also has an optional feature that automatically loosens it, when the wearer is playing sport.
Binder gives options
Breathe’s designer is looking to the future: “My long-term vision for Breathe is to see it as an alternative form of treatment for transgender people through the NHS,” Kilburn said.
“A lot of transgender people who are wearing chest binders are often experiencing a lot of pain while binding, so much so that they can feel pressured into having top surgery – which is the removal of your breasts – so that they have a permanently flat chest.”
“Top surgery is very much an expensive and permanent decision, so for many transgender people having a product like Breathe could be an alternate option which gives them more time to consider whether they want surgery whilst experiencing much less pain from binding.”
Trans community welcomes tech-based ideas
Kilburn worked closely with his university’s trans community on the design of the product.
One of the community members, Jamie, commented: “Chest binding is a way for me to feel more masculine when I’m going outside because it flattens out my chest and it means I feel more comfortable presenting as male."
“The problems that I face is more to do with discomfort – it gets very hot. I think Breathe could definitely help because it reduces discomfort and means that people can use their binder for more situations; they don’t need to take it off for sport, for example.”
Kilburn hopes to make the product available on a rental system so people can try both the act of binding and the product before committing to the cost. They also hope to make repairs of the garment available for free and provide replacements for users' changing body shape.
High quality binders are often very expensive which leads some people who bind, to use unsafe practices like wrapping or even using tape.
I think people who can’t afford existing binders probably won’t be able to afford this option (although it will be available to rent as well as being bought) hopefully it could be seen as a low cost, non-permanent alternative to people considering getting top surgery ☺️? https://t.co/4rJBt75WFi— Miles Kilburn (@miles_kilburn) June 16, 2019