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Bra washing. The ponderings of a rucksack designer

(NB US readers. Rucksack = backpack) As I make my first steps in rucksack product design I spend every waking moment thinking about how better to design stuff we take for granted and consider how it impacts today’s urban commuter and traveller. Here’s my latest product thinking on what I can design and how we as users consume.

Bras and rucksacks

I buy bras at Bravissimo, a shop with bras for massive breasts. It’s great there. I just go for the same hardworking black bra that I always do whenever I need a new one. It doesn’t cost as much as Calvin Klein but it’s more expensive than your average crap bra.

Why should non-bra wearers continue reading and what have bras got to do with rucksacks? They are actually more closely related than most of my product analogies. Both are complex textiles, worn close to the body. They carry important things, they’re meant to protect the content and do so effectively on a daily basis for a few years. They have health implications for back and posture and – if they work well and are the right size – should be inconspicuous and, essentially, disappear.

It's just a photo

All in the design?

I’ve got to say, Bravissimo really has made life easier for many women. I used to think that it was up to Bravissimo just to make great bras, I buy them and that was it. But that’s only the designer’s half of the deal: they’ve recognised that not all women have the so called average (C) bra size and, in response, built a real product around their real users (D - L bra sizes). That’s their Revolution in user thinking. That’s where I thought it ended.

A bra user’s tale

The last time I went to Bravissimo I told them that my favourite bra often broke resulting in one of the wires poking out. That’s mostly when I make the effort to replace it. I took out my pretty beaten looking bra as evidence. I was actually trying to get a discount. You’ve got to try, surely?

The bra woman working there asked me how old it is. I said a year. It had actually been more like two and a half. She then said that it’s best practice not to wash the bra in a washing machine: it’s bad for both the machine and the bra. (I, of course, pretended I had never done this. Yet within the last year have had a washing machine technician round to remove a bra wire which had stopped the whole thing working.) Instead, you’re meant to treat the bra as if it’s a body part. Her advice: give your bra a rinse in the shower whenever you have a shower.

Hmmm. Wash my bra daily after each use. This is new. At first - and I still struggle with this - I couldn’t get the picture of me wearing a bra in the shower out of my head. This was not her intention. You take it in, rinse it and hang it somewhere to dry, wearing another one that day.

After battling with that image, my next response was one of being slightly put out that I couldn’t just do whatever I like i.e. not wash the bra for ages and then chuck it in the washing machine to solve all my woes. Then wear and carry on regardless. I left the shop with no discount, my broken bra, two new ones and my bebra-ed showering self in my head.

I was now enlightened. But what should I do with this new knowledge? Must I really consciously look after my bra? Do I really have to remember to take yesterday’s bra into the shower with me each morning whilst remembering where the other one is so that I can use that one instead? It seems like hard work.

Revolution in user thinking

I think this is the bit we’re missing out on in general. Our half of the deal: the customer’s Revolution in the user thinking.

We choose to buy a product. We use it relentlessly, treat it badly, fail to maintain it and watch it die a miserable death. This goes for cars, washing machines, computers, smartphones, clothing and rucksacks. Or, like a minority of people, we can consider how best to look after this new thing.

What’s strange is that it only benefits us to take an interest in, look after and take responsibility for what we own. It looks better, lasts longer and costs less as a consequence. So what is stopping us from acting this way?

I have no answer to this question. Please let me know what you think it is.


By the way, I tried out the new bra regime. It works. The bra looks and feels like new – like new – every time I put it on again. It regains all its structure, shine and elasticity. It feels – honestly – like new over the course of the years I’ve had it. Thanks Bravissimo. Maybe it's time to bring back the instruction manual for even the most ubiquitous of items.


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